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Lesser Than What? - 93%

iamntbatman, June 10th, 2017

One of the oldest demons of metal, music, and, I suspect, artistic expression generally is that it's no easy thing to create new art that draws upon a well of varied influences without diluting the particular nuances and manifestations of artistic vision that made each of those individual constituent parts something worth caring about and desiring to incorporate into your own work in the first place. Though it's black metal and nothing else, there's a lot going into Dumal's sound: part Taake, part Mgla, a good helping of Arckanum (certainly), plenty of nocturnal Slavic inclinations (minus the keys), something about the whole affair that sort of gives away its American upbringing (is that Judas Iscariot, somewhere?), and undoubtedly echoes of Norway, Burzum in the vanguard.

After reading all of that, a few of you may be stepping back and declaring it too good to be true, while probably the larger part might think that could very well be a bloody mess without a voice of its own. But, miraculously, Dumal have not only succeeded in making all of these elements work together in harmony, but wound up doing a bang-up job of handcrafting a sound of their own from all of those disparate parts.

But that's really the thing: those parts were never disparate. To seasoned ears, there's a world of difference between Judas Iscariot and Arckanum. But in every case, all of those influential titans of black metal were touching upon some darkness just below the surface of the entire globe, like that layer of meteor dust 65 million years down that scientists found as confirmation of that explanation of mass extinction. It's the allure of black metal's particular yin and yang, the appeal of the power and pride of triumphant victory over weakness within or without, either through conquest or rejection, married to the despair and anguish of hopelessness, loss, and defeat to force-of-nature malevolence and ruin. Dumal don't just blend in parts of what those other bands sounded like, they drill down to that same sub-crustal layer of primordial black, and haul it up in buckets.

Repetition and minimalism are on tap, fortified with a powerful ability to intuit melody from unshaped gray sonic stone. The songs flow steadily like an ancient river through a deep, intimate canyon. I can't help but think the success of this songcraft must result from the working relationship between the band members: two guys are older scene veterans, who've no doubt listened to tons of music, witnessed it live, and developed a deep understanding of why the greats of black metal even *were* great. But then, the guitarist is a younger guy, also a member of Höllenlärm, but who perhaps helps bring some vital, youthful vigor to the songwriting, a fresh perspective on an ancient sound. But I'm just making all that up as a possible explanation for the expertise the band shows. Every riff and melody undulates with power and purpose, every song crafted with care, the album as a whole a work of unified artistry.

The important thing to take away from this album (well, apart from the obviousness of just being really pleased with it) is that it is NOT greater than the sum of its parts, but it doesn't need to be, either; it just needs to feel like a genuine expression of black metal, which, ideally, is in the same realm of quality as those pinnacles of the style that inform it. And that, it absolutely, unquestioningly is. And with that, Dumal have become the single most exciting active "plain old black metal" band in America. Fans plunge in, skeptics take note, new devotees, join ranks and wait for the next one with me.