Just to state the unsurprising fact: This is a band that is incapable of making an uninteresting or dull album. Their previous releases show that and when they, as on this record, simultaneously take a step back to be inspired by their beginnings and incorporate the visionary musical ideas from all their earlier releases, the result is astounding. They seem to have made an album that will result in the emergence of a genre that might be called Post-Crust-Punk-Metal or something like that.
Because, as the band says in the press release, they have let the music on this new album be inspired by their beginnings in DIY/Crust Punk. The songs are shorter than usual, elongated sonics are at a minimum and the d-beats race the music forward. The introduction of synths and female vocals by Lulu Black from the band This Is Oblivion work wonders for the musical scope they embrace on this album. Although the songs are shorter than usual, they are at the same time far-reaching.
The themes are as bleak as their covers always are, dim and foggy. The world is cold and gloomy and vocalist Dominik sings about grey-painted cold concrete and images of earlier times resound through long alleys as he does on ”Final Vows” . The song opens with a dip into Industrial Metal that turns into repetitive onslaughts of heavy music accompanying the hoarse vocals. But this is Downfall of Gaia, nothing is straightforward here; the pace changes, and the music with fast blasting riffing guitars revolves into a heaving part before it becomes straight-lined again. Then everything is turned kind of upside down as a vast sonic horizon is opening up along a pulsating synth echoing until the end.
For this song, and for the others, it is sonics from Crust Punk they use for speed and nihilistic ferocity. At the same time they induce every, for them, short song with atmospheric parts that seep into the Post Black Metal sonics we are used to hearing from the guys; and it makes for a delightful turbulent listen as you do not know what comes next. It takes a few listens to get the grasp on this. First, you are just a bit confused but satisfied. Then you begin to dig through the layers and texture and find that this is not straightforward music just hammering on. It is quite complex and impressively well done, as the song ”The Whir Of Flies” exemplifies: The intro is short and buzzing as the guitar riffs emerge and the drums blast forward. Heavy riffs support the vocals describing a protagonist with freezing hands, numb cheeks, and icy stitches through the marrow. As the Crust Punk pushes everything forward, a guitar in the background repeats a melodic pattern and the bass rumbles below. A sudden change of pace erupts - still with fast rhythms, but the guitars spread out in vast ambient sounds. At midpoint, the music simmers down with one guitar over rumbling sonics. The sound effects induce a vast and echoing space as it slowly crawls forward led by slow drums. Another surge appears and we are back to heavy Crust Punk sprinkled with Post Black Metal atmospherics as the synths lay a veil over the music accompanied by solo guitars.
Lulu Black´s angelic vocals are so well used on ”Eyes To Burning Skies”: After synths sounding like a fog horn flow into an extensive down-tuned soundscape with clean guitars, Black´s vocals most effectively contrast the spreading dark ambiance before the music takes a deep breath and moves forward as fast as any Crust Punk song has ever done. Black´s voice is also used to great effect in the midst of the immense soundscape of the opening track, ”Existence Of Awe”: This opening song sets the pace and tone for the album, yanks you into the fast beating music, and indicates what is to come. It is like the band has taken advice from Ken Hensley´s sleeve notes on the 1971 Uriah Heep album Salisbury where he wrote: ”Side one, song one is always important to an album and has to be chosen carefully.” The first song always establishes the vibe for the album, and boy, do they do that with this song. There is no intro; every instrument gives drive and density - hard tremolo guitar, rolling bass, and drums at high speed. Immersed in this heaviness are the hoarse screaming vocals. A change of pace dives straight into Crust Punk with the drums in the front of the mix with d-beats, and fast riffing until a synth rises above the music and changes the mood, and widens the song´s ambiance. In this relatively short song, they manage to bring out all the feats that define the album; simmering down, melodic guitars over quiet parts, slow moves, and spellbinding resonance resulting in an immense soundscape with the synth sometimes lingering above or crawling in and out of the vibrant sound on this album.
I do think that Downfall of Gaia has managed to make another groundbreaking album as they have let their music be inspired by their early days while scattering Post Black Metal into the cracks and caverns they open up for the synths, vocals, and guitars to fill. Another remarkable achievement of this album is how they have put the drums upfront in the mix and let the other instruments evolve on all sides of Michael Kadnar’s drumming. It makes it an energetic listen, and I am sure their live shows will become even more vibrant than they have been. You never leave an album or a live gig with Downfall of Gaia untouched, they always leave a mark on your soul.