The release of this Californian tech-deathcore outfit’s sophomore album late this October has been mired in a degree of fairly distasteful controversy. The band faced attempts from a “third-party” to exploit a legal loophole which would disallow them from using their band name; the legal costs incurred resulted in Dingir’s official release being pushed back to February of next year. Furthermore, a low-quality version of the album was leaked online, prompting the band to post the full album as a free, high-quality stream via the blog Total Deathcore , reasoning that if the album has been leaked, fans may as well be allowed to enjoy the experience as it was intended. I bring this up because I believe it’s important to acknowledge artists’ existence independent from aesthetic considerations. I can empathise with the exasperation Rings of Saturn have expressed in getting this record to release, and I admire their sporting attitude in allowing the album to be streamed. I’m also glad I was afforded the opportunity to listen to it for free, because I would have been deeply unhappy to have parted with money to listen to this terrible music.
I think it’s fair to say that Rings of Saturn represent the very worst direction taken by modern metal. Together with partners in crime like Beneath the Massacre, they perpetrate the bass drops and breakdowns associated with the hated label of deathcore together with alienating, amelodic, very fast sweep-picking and staccato blastbeats that sound like a pinball machine mating with a particle accelerator. It’s a style that takes an immense volume of instrumental skill to play, as well as a brazen disregard for the necessity of music to exist as anything beyond an impenetrable haze of notes. Technical death metal is a genre I’m quite fond of for the ability of bands like Atheist or Obscura to meld metal’s defined songwriting conventions with the playful, mercurial instrumentation of jazz, but for all that their songs follow a fragmented, distractive course, it remains possible to discern purpose and continuity from one passage to the next. Not so with Dingir; music like this has reached a point where the generic traits that once functioned as feints and flourishes have subsumed everything else. There is no foundation, no rationale to the songs presented here. Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, and so forth.
Attempting to distinguish songs on Dingir is a fool’s errand, apart from the moments here and there where coherence momentarily wins out – the Periphery-influenced leads giving a djent flavour to the ending of “Immaculate Order,” the surprisingly intelligible solo midway through “Galactic Cleansing,” and of particular note, the relaxed and amicable instrumental “Utopia” that closes the album, sounding like a refugee Animals as Leaders composition. On one level these moments where Rings of Saturn’s obviously skilled members allow themselves to breathe creatively just add insult to injury (they beg the question: do the band not know how to compose articulate, memorable songs, or do they simply choose not to?), but whatever, any port in a storm.
They do, however, throw into sharp relief just how gratingly unappealing the band’s default mode of sweep-happy masturbation really is. The jagged, stop/start rhythms of Ian Baker’s drums defy any kind of natural groove or flow, and Lucas Mann and Joel Oman’s proudly inorganic, computerised-sounding guitars lack any sense of personality, express nothing beyond their own random chaos. The songs – and I use that term advisedly – are incomprehensible. They begin as arbitrarily as they end; concepts like tension and release, climax and lull are treated as obsolete anachronisms. Given their love of cosmological subject matter, I’m sure Rings of Saturn would argue that that’s the point; that the seeming chaos of the music is a reflection of a disordered universe which laughs off our attempts to assign patterns to it; certainly part of the traditional appeal of death metal is the notion of threat from the unknown and the unknowable, and Dingir is simply a post-modernist manifestation of that notion.
The problem with that argument is that I simply don’t feel threatened by it. Bemused and disoriented, but my nerves are not being frayed, only my patience. There comes a point where saying “but that’s the idea!” doesn’t cut it; whatever intellectual justification there may be for sounding like an 8-bit arcade game being fed to a garbage disposal, there’s nothing I take away from Dingir. It’s an album about which I can only articulate my thoughts in terms of absence – absence of melody, absence of songs, absence of thought, absence of humanity and absence of fucks given. It inspires only apathy and annoyance.
1 Objective to Harvest
2 Galactic Cleansing
3 Shards of Scorched Flesh
5 Faces Imploding
6 Peeling Arteries
8 Fruitless Existence
9 Immaculate Order