I have a respect for artists who eschew the soapbox and let their music do the talking for them. Particularly in black metal—where the popular trend has often been to use the musical form to espouse a pro/anti/post religious/political/philosophical viewpoint, a sub-sect genre like depressive black metal is all the more refreshing for the fact that it forgoes the minutiae of inter-human debates. Scars from a Dead Room offer no clue as to their identities (save for their Canadian origins); the album packaging is minimal almost to a fault, and no lyrics are given. Besides a set of song titles (almost all in French), we have nothing but the music itself from which to interpret Scars from a Dead Room’s perspective.
Yet, Scars from a Dead Room’s self-titled debut manages to get an immense sense of defeat and despair across; amid the gazey guitars, muted drums, and indistinct howls, they’re speaking in a universal tongue of anguish, a language without equivalent words for ‘hope’, ‘love’, or ‘light’.
I hesitate when a review of mine begins to sound like a press-kit, but a sense of unbridled despair is apparent while listening to Scars from a Dead Room. More than that, this project’s debut (limited to a mere 69 copies) offers a depth of ambition and stylistic range seldom heard within the DSBM realm. Such as it is, Scars from a Dead Room’s first observation is both engaging and turbulent, drawing the former impression through the album’s varied musical portfolio, and the latter through the largely disorganized way Scars from a Dead Room have presented their material.
Through the muted, nigh-inhuman howls, cold instrumentation, and the aforementioned despondent atmosphere, it’s clear that Scars from a Dead Room have aligned their destiny with that of DSBM. While I don’t normally like to dwell too long on the merits of genre, the depressive subset of black metal tends to have a very firm and to-be-expected archetype. Aspects of what style-veterans may be expecting are indeed present on Scars from a Dead Room, but the thing that leaves the strongest impression on me listening to it is the degree to which Scars from a Dead Room evade and extend beyond the cliches of the genre. While there are no detours so large as to alienate the album’s tone and atmosphere, it’s as if each song was sketched so as to offer a different means to the same ends. For instance, ‘Calvaire’ opens up the album with a dissonant sketch that could recall the sludgey-inclination of Altar of Plagues, or even something a left-field death metal act like Akercocke might have intro’d their own album with before delving into the main course. By contrast, ‘Expiare”s jarring exploration of chord changes is a short step away from Blut Aus Nord‘s austere intensity. I don’t believe it’s until ‘Mes Yeux s’Ouvrant sur l’Infini’ that the album finally gets going; whereas the first two tracks unfold as sketches of what ‘could be’, the album’s third track is an excellent statement in post-black metal, with a dismal tone offset by the lively and engaging way the composition is structured. From there, ‘Temple of the Morning Star’ sounds like the dark-mirrored counterpart to Alcest‘s brooding shoegazing. ‘ExHume’ and ‘InHume’ are a more aggressive and forward-thinking take on the depressive style, and stand as two of the more memorable pieces on the album. ‘Il Retourne à la Terre’ is one of the least aggressive pieces here, but the ambient organ paired with a particularly effective vocal sample (taken from the William Blatty film The Ninth Configuration) is incredibly effective. I wish I could say the same for the boring ambiance of ‘Tue le Père. Tue-le’, which may have just as well been left off the album altogether.
Scars from a Dead Room are undoubtedly sincere with his/their work, but the fact does not preclude the existence of flaws in the album. Most notably, Scars from a Dead Room is beset with an issue of consistency common to many debuts of this sort. There’s often the pressure on the ambitious artist not simply to get their debut off on the best foot, but both of the best feet. Scars from a Dead Room stick to the post/depressive black metal framework, but within that context it’s clear they’ve a lot to say. ‘Mes Yeux s’Ouvrant sur l’Infini’ and ‘InHume’ demonstrate that Scars from a Dead Room are capable songwriters when it comes to individual compositions, but in the hopes of coalescing all of their ideas under one roof, the album feels uneven; it lacks flow in an atmosphere-based genre that depends on it for its emotional effect.
This issue is also compounded by a relative sense of inconsistency in the quality of Scars from a Dead Room’s atmosphere and songwriting. It never feels like the album’s momentum picks up until ‘Mes Yeux s’Ouvrant sur l’Infini’, and while the album’s closer ‘Tue le Père. Tue-le’ is clearly intended as a denouement, it’s an ineffective denouement. Even so, the momentum that Scars from a Dead Room build from tracks three to seven largely vindicates them of these weaknesses. In particular, ‘Mes Yeux s’Ouvrant suf l’Inifini’ strikes me as a masterclass in post-black metal. The fact the genre has gained a bit of a bad reputation amongst black metal fans is due to the fact that so many of its adherents default on an ineffectual blend of shoegazey apathy and metal without the conviction to make it work. Scars from a Dead Room may have not figured out every part of their act, but added focus on subsequent albums will see their potential fulfilled.
I recently had a discussion regarding the merits of DSBM; while it’s understandable why a lot of listeners are turned off by the apparent tedium of it, it takes firsthand experience with hopelessness to begin to appreciate it. However uneven their debut may be, I believe Scars from a Dead Room have tapped into the same despondent well from which others such as Xasthur, Coldworld, Thy Light, or even Heretoir drew their depressive magic. Scars from a Dead Room haven’t yet achieved a proper synthesis of his/their varied musical ideas, but the width of their portfolio is more than enough to create anticipation for whatever this project will come out with next.
03) Mes Yeux S’Ouvrant sur L’Infini
04) Temple of the Morning Star
06) Il Retourne à la Terre
08) Tue le Père. Tue-le