In 2015, when an album has lo-fi or muddy production, it’s generally fair to assume that some kind of statement is being made. Our Metal ancestors often had to struggle bravely with bad equipment, disinterested producers and no money at all, but in an age where anyone with an internet connection and the patience to learn can produce a listenable sound without significant expense, those bands who release rough, messy-sounding albums are generally choosing to do so.
I mention this here because the production is the first thing that strikes you about Oceanclots (Acephale Winter) – “lo-fi” if you want to be positive about it, “a fucking mess” if you don’t. Biscuit tin drums, box-of-angry-wasps guitars, vocals that sound like someone in the next room screaming through a pillow – you’ve heard cheap Black Metal before, you know what I’m talking about. The second thing you notice, however, is how much is going on underneath that buzzing noise.
Dhampyr play “atmospheric” Black Metal in which the a word describes not the background farty hand-waving that it often does, but a dense, layered wall of sound in which raw, savage Black Metal riffing clashes with classical picking, harsh Noise and ambient dreaminess to create something which is both chaotic and oddly contemplative. It’s not an easy listen by any means – most of the eleven tracks are open and meandering, easy pay-offs are traded in for abstract ambience and at all times the intentionally raw production creates an atmosphere of minimalist passivity which runs counter to the preferences of most Metal fans – but if you succeed in engaging with it in the right mood it can be a genuinely moving one.
Oceanclots is a rich, immersive and genuinely fascinating album with a lot to offer someone prepared to work at it, but it demands a lot from the listener, and at times the pay-off is too wilfully abstract to entirely satisfy. It’s also arguably longer than it strictly needs to be, later tracks meshing into an ambient soup from which it is hard to distinguish individual details.
Probably not something that many listeners will visit regularly, but worth having for those moods when it really clicks.