Historical events are great fodder for concept albums. There are hundreds of ways to interpret any event in history and music allows both the creator and the listener to see different perspectives, often within the scope of a single album. Dødsmaskin, a duo out of the frozen northlands of Norway, recently crafted an album, Fullstendig Brent, to details events in the 1600s, witch trials, that before this album I knew nothing about. While listening to the album I tried hard to refrain from looking up these events because I wanted my perspective to be colored, at first at least, by the album only. Why? Because I wanted to see the evolution of the story without any prior knowledge of it. Even though I have opinions about witch trials, I didn’t want these specific ones to be painted by facts just yet. I wanted an artistic interpretation of events before I settled down to the cold, dull facts of the story, as it were. I listened to this album multiple times, as I do with all my reviews and analyses but this time it was for a different purpose. As I learned about the events, I continued to play the album and I felt my interpretation of events, played by Dødsmaskin, evolve and change. As I grew in knowledge of the events, I grew in appreciation for the methods and instrumentations that Dødsmaskin chose to create their music. Now I will endeavor to put the puzzle together piece by piece and show you what I saw.
The start of the album plays like those old film rolls, the scratchy hiss of the film as it’s run through the projector. The sound, though, could take on another meaning. It also sounds like the hungry flames of a bonfire. Which was more likely the intention here? Probably, it’s the flames, this is an album about witch trials and burning the accused at the stake, with the addition of a mournful string accompaniment the assumption seems certain; the idea that these are flames accompanied by mournful instrumentation means that there is going to be a lot of potential emotional depth in this album, not something very common with industrial music. It is important to note, though that there are two different interpretations of the sounds offered by Dødsmaskin. Such interpretive power will be important as we move on through the review.
The music quickly devolves into chaos and anarchy with a sort of militaristic rhythm in the banging of pans, something only industrial artists and toddlers can use as an instrument, symbolizing the call to action of the men who are called by God to fight against the witches, but Dødsmaskin lets us know, through the distorted and feverish sounds, that there is no God ordering these trials, this darkness is the darkness of men alone. God has nothing to do with this. There is no divine nature at work here, in the dark or the light. There is only power versus shadow. Order versus fear.
There is a dichotomy at work behind the album that might not be readily apparent to the listener until it’s pointed out to them: the volume. The volume of Fullstendig Brent fluctuates and shifts wildly. At any given moment the album is quiet, serene, and mournful, then at the drop of a penny the volume increases to a fevered pitch; shrill, angry, and piercing. This represents the dual nature at work here, or should that be duel nature? The two volumes are fighting for control of the album, reason versus reaction. If you pay attention to history, even before you listen to this album you know what side wins out. As the album goes on the volume increasingly sides with the loud and angry. If you are looking for a calming album, this is not going to be one. It’s dark, uncomfortable, and downright nasty. It was hard to listen to the first few times around because the sounds were so real. I give all the credit due to Dødsmaskin for that. They went this way intentionally, they wanted the album to sound uncomfortable and unsettling. It’s not just fuzz and mechanical whirls. It’s human voices, voices in agony. Pain and terror fill nearly every moment of Fullstendig Brent. Even in the quiet moments, there is a hint of it, something to keep the listener from truly relaxing.
In the end, the violence wins out and the album’s sound descends into chaos and madness. This is a reflection of the human soul as it burns away. Each shriek and buzz tears off a piece, leaving something entirely new, and entirely unhuman in its wake. What is this new thing we are left with? Is this what man is to become? Is this what is destined to happen again and again? Can we stop it? Can it be stopped at all? All of the sounds culminate, building off each other until the sound is almost overwhelming, nearly impossible to distinguish one sound from another, until it shorts out. What that symbolizes I think is obvious but I will attempt to explain it. There is a point at which the human mind, not brain necessarily, cannot comprehend what is happening around it and it shuts down, encloses itself away from the world, locks itself away. At what point could this happen? Maybe the overwhelming screams for mercy, the cries of dread and pain, the smell of burning flesh as the “righteous” stand by? I should think so.
An album this cacophonous is unsettling, it’s not beautiful, not by a long shot. But that’s the point isn’t it? Something like these events cannot be glorified or rationalized. They have to be forgotten or condemned. This album was, in many respects, similar to my favorite film: The Name of the Rose. It’s a wonderfully crafted film that one cannot call beautiful yet it is profound and poignant. It’s my favorite yet I can’t watch it very often, the subject matter is heavy, too heavy for frequent viewing. Fullstendig Brent, too, is poignant and profound but the subject matter is so heavy I don’t think I could listen to it often. Will I continue to listen to it? Absolutely! It’s an amazingly crafted album with a palpable, tactile sense of reality, something we need in our music today. Its realism should be much appreciated, valued, and analyzed as I have attempted to do here. It’s a worthwhile album to have, even if it doesn’t come out very often.
Highlights: Båldom, Dømt På Sitt Liv Til Ild Og Bål
If you like this try: Behind Blinding Light, Black Earth, Steel Hook Prostheses
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