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With the overabundance of black metal bands in recent years, especially of the depressive and atmospheric brand, it is quite the challenge to find an artist that forges a new path or has something new to bring to the plate. As a metal listener, there should be moments in life that you remember when a certain album or song changed your entire perspective on music. The main man and founder of U.S. black metal act Deafest certainly had these moments while listening to Drudkh, Wolves in the Throne Room and Neurosis, as “Through Wood and Fog” sounds like the red headed step child of those bands. While Deafest does not blaze any new trails, they do bring forth an extremely listenable release, that was certainly inspired by bands that forged new paths.
“Through Wood and Fog” is the eleventh release by Deafest. Having formed in 2008, this makes eleven releases in four years (six splits, three full lengths, one demo and now an EP). While that may not be the same over-driven, forced output as Zarach Baal Tharagh, that's still a lot of releases in a short time frame. This release, being only three tracks and twenty two minutes long, is enough to get the idea of what Deafest is all about: tremelo picked ambient black metal with no vocals.
The release starts off with “Fog Rolls Down the Slopes”, which begins with a Death in June like minimalistic, martial drum line mixed with a gentle keyboard line and the ambient sounds of nature. The gentle introduction is quickly smashed by tremelo picked guitar lines and a fast, driving drum beat. After a short time the heaviness is replaced by another ambient, martial section, where the guitars just kind of fall off the edge of the earth. The rest of the release continues this near cyclical trend: ambient; trem picked, ambient, trem picked, ambient, etc.
The guitar tone sounds very Eastern European, sounding similar to Drudkh and even Graveland's mid-era output (minus the Bathory-isms). The guitars are distorted, but they are much less distorted than the Watain's and Antateus's of the world. Deafest's style during heavier sections is entirely tremelo picked lines in minor keys. If you're familiar with Drudkh's “Autumn Aurora”, then you know what to expect, as the similarities are quite striking. When Deafest starts to slow down the guitar lines become extremely simplistic, with distorted power chords being drawn out to doom metal slowness, sounding similar to “Times of Grace” era Neurosis.
The rhythm section comes across a simplistic, less tribal Neurosis, which closely resembles the drumming of many doom acts. There are times where the drums pick up speed and approach blast beats, but the speed and intensity cuts off and it's back to the plodding doom lines. The band sounds the best when the trem picked guitar lines coalesce with the faster, double bass sections of the drums and hint at the trance inducing chaos of early Ulver and Wolves in the Throne Room. Unfortunately, Deafest fails to bring the listener onto a different plain.
The production on this EP isn't as thin as most black metal acts, but it is definitely not as clean and polished as the newer wave seems to be. The biggest downfall, production-wise, is the rhythm section. The bass is audible, but so far back in the mix that you have to strain to hear it at times. The cymbals and snare drum are quite loud, but the bass drum is distant and muffled. Some sections sound close to blast beats, but you can't tell because the bass drum gets completely drowned out by the rest of the instruments. The rarely utilized keyboards are also to rear of the mix: during the ambient sections, you still have to listen closely to hear the notes being played.
Deafest have the elements to release great music, but they fail to capitalize on all fronts. The transitions between the black metal and ambient sections sound extremely forced and unnatural. Guitars aside, the instrumentation is muddy and distant. With better production and more work meshing the ambiance with the metal, Deafest could be a force to be reckoned with. As it stands, this is a decent album: no more, no less. Recommended to fans of Drudkh, Wolves in the Throne Room and the like. There is nothing that will really appeal to casual listeners, so unless you like trem picked ambient black metal, keep looking.