Nearly fifteen years ago, current Killswitch Engage members Jesse Leach and Adam Dutkiewicz teamed up to birth the collaborative project Times of Grace. This dynamic duo pushed their creative boundaries by conjuring a fresh take on the heavy-yet-melodic sound. They delivered their debut album, The Hymn of a Broken Man (Roadrunner Records) in 2011. The gloom and aggression let loose on that record was ignited by the brutally honest songwriting. The themes of struggle, heartbreak, and hope were potently delivered with a real and plaintive spirit. These two brought forth a discovery of powerful melancholy and now ten years later, they are offering a sequel to that revelation. Their second full-length Songs of Loss and Separation (Wicked Good Records) is carrying on the melodic mournfulness, yet wonderfully wholesome sound that is Times of Grace.
It is during the fourth track, the abrasive ‘Of Stillness & Solitude’, a misnomer of a song-title if ever there was one, that you truly, madly, deeply get Downfall of Gaia. The Isis roiling builds into a chaotic clashing juxtaposition of rusted, raging black metal, vocal shrieks pained with frustration and defeat, and a draining feeling of epic repression immerses as the despotic union of sludge, post-metal and black metal, with a steady jarring relentlessness, wraps the consciousness.
Suspension of disbelief may have originated in the cinematic world, but it adequately applies to many albums – albums that act or behave as a soundtrack, or soundscape (vomits in mouth), if you will. With albums, it’s that creating of an atmosphere, that complete absorption into the feeling the band are creating, where you accept their alternate reality. The more cerebral will do this, guiding you on an aural journey. Cult of Luna excels at it. Early Burzum damned near perfected it. But take it from the hands of the Master Builders and put it in the paws of the less adept you get moments, like at the outset of ‘Darkness Inflames These Sapphire Eyes’, where apposite styles are forced together, when the brooding introduction hits cataclysmic rage in a ungainly segue, where it snaps you out of that false reality. It’s not contrast; it’s a cluster-fuck, as if a surgeon were to reattach a severed finger with a staple gun and gaffa tape.
If there’s a thin line between love and hate, there’s an even thinner one between tense and ominous and, well, boring and jarring, and it’s a line Aeon Unveils The Throne of Decay (Metal Blade) tramples up and down. It has the composite parts. It has the bleakness of Winter, the discordance and pervading opacity of Neurosis and the abrasiveness of Krallice. It has the mood bits, it has the caustic futile wrath, but it doesn’t always know how to put it together and keep it together. But when it works, when ‘Excavated’’s harrowing 8 minutes bleeds on you, Downfall of Gaia nail all the nuances of unsettling, bleak music and it is beautifully horrible. I get the attempts at contrast, I get the pervading mood of hopelessness, but I also get a lot of cut and paste, of not quite knowing how to blend it all together. There’s a lot to recommend about Downfall of Gaia, but this is not their masterpiece. Not yet.