REVIEW: DOWNFALL OF GAIA – “Ethic Of Radical Finitude”
The newest chapter in the story of international metal innovators, Downfall of Gaia is certainly one worth telling. ‘Ethic Of Radical Finitude’ features 6 well-crafted tracks that push and pull you, lift you skyward, and then send you hurtling facefirst toward the earth.
Taking a nod from the direction of the band’s previous album, ‘Atrophy’ (2016), ‘Ethic Of Radical Finitude’ is an exploration of haunting melodies, tight song structures, and a carefully devised union of several metal subgenres. With the addition of components new to the group such as clean vocals, chimes, and spoken word passages, the result is the most mature, creative, and fulfilling album by Downfall of Gaia to date. Guitarist/vocalist Dominik Goncalves dos Reis says of the project, “There are long atmospheric parts with enough time to breathe, enough time to unfold, and on the other side there are harsh and melodic blastbeats. Each song is some kind of journey, with emotional ups and downs.”
These “emotional ups and downs” are used to powerfully convey the overarching theme of ‘Ethic Of Radical Finitude’, that being the idea of discontented minds and the never-ending pursuit for wanting more. Goncalves dos Reis asserts, “I guess everyone in life is trying to find this special warm and safe place, their special place. To feel home, to feel safe, to feel satisfied. But maybe at some point, you need to accept that it may never come, that you will never arrive.”
Album opener “Seduced By” establishes an initial sense of solace with the slow build of rich, swirling guitars, only to have the ground suddenly swallow you whole and land you into the immediate pounding chaos of “The Grotesque Illusion Of Being.” This is where we first hear the distinct vocals of Goncalves dos Reis brought forward and placed very neatly in the mix, my most significant wish-list item with the preceding album. Blastbeats and guitar drones drive the song into a soaring feeling of dark ecstasy which is eventually juxtaposed against a simple piano and then thrust back into a buzzing frenzy, ultimately punctuated by a low moaning sound which fades into the following track. It’s a masterful exercise in dynamics that leaves the listener eagerly pondering where the path may be headed next.
“We Pursue The Serpent Of Time” begins with seemingly unstructured and primal drumming that sets the mysterious mood of the track which then gives way to the familiar frantic blastbeats and black metal mayhem adored by any Downfall Of Gaia devotee. Once again, this song takes a brief turn to the subdued, only to shove you mightily back into the pit soon enough. Perhaps, my favorite aspect of this song as a whole is the drumming. Drummer Michael Kadnar takes some fantastic liberties with structures and patterns that aren’t often heard done as masterfully as is here, and his methods appear to draw influence from a fusion of jazz drumming and Scottish military marches. Truly a skilled technician at work and brave creative adaptation. As guitar feedback sounds, the plinking of a dusty, haggard sounding piano leads us out and into the melodic intro of “Guided Through A Starless Night.” The journey continues.
Once more, the band charges the song forward with a sense of urgency, then caution, then intrigue. The album’s theme of emotion wrapped in dynamics is paramount here. The longest track presented on ‘Ethic Of Radical Finitude’, the capstone of “Guided Through A Starless Night” is a spoken word recited by Mers Sumida of Black Table. Her cautious approach in how she presents the poem has a tangible vulnerability that captures the atmosphere of the track in a fragile and honest way. Her weary voice cracks, “There are cemeteries that are lonely. Graves full of bones that do not make a sound. The heart and the rain move through a tunnel. In it, darkness, like a shipwreck. We die going into ourselves as though we were drowning inside our hearts.” Sumida continues, and by the end, there is no way of misunderstanding her sense of isolated despair.
This mood of somber sobriety is quickly discarded when “As Our Bones Break To The Dance” bursts through the veil with a resolution not to be mistaken for weakness in any way. Fast and mighty, this song has a feeling of epicness to it with an ending that brings to mind a freshly satiated vampire who has just finished leveling a mob of villagers and is now ready for a well-earned rest.
The album’s finale, “Of Withering Violet Leaves” allows us to exhale and contemplate for a few moments as we are brought full circle to once again soak in reverbed textures. For only a few moments though, because there is no time for a reprieve. There is a sense of finality that must be conveyed. A sprawling, driving, hungry finality that is at last bookended with a final spoken section by Mer Sumida. Haunting and damning.
Sometimes beautiful, often gutting, Downfall of Gaia’s latest offering, ‘Ethic of Radical Finitude’ is an eloquent and pointed tour de force that carries the listener through a journey of disaffection dotted with glimpses of bliss. This is one best absorbed with eyes closed and vulnerabilities opened.