Friday, January 8, 2016

Onirik - Casket Dream Veneration

Onirik’s Casket Dream Veneration is a true gem of a black metal album. This fantastically quirky release explores and experiments with combinations of old school melodicism with modern dissonant trends. That said, the project isn’t limited to any particular kind of sound or style. It’s as if everything was on the table before all of the ideas were seamlessly molded into a coherent album; it’s gestalt black metal. Some moments are triumphantly filled with expansive and engrossing melodies, others upbeat, and many are just plain weird. Everything on here is pretty damn interesting; yet it’s clear that Onirik values quality over novelty because the dazzling album is never overbearingly experimental.

The experimentation isn’t the only part of the music that’s carefully measured and blended into the mix. Gonius Rex, the master craftsman behind the project, repeatedly demonstrates his complete lack of ego when it comes to songwriting because of how subtly he uses his own considerable talents. On guitar, many of the more technical leads are almost buried by the rhythm section’s progressions (e.g. midway through the title track). Rather than placing these melodies’ beauty and sophistication on an obvious pedestal, Onirik’s solos worm through and fertilize the mix. The vocals too are just another part of Casket Dream Veneration’s grave soil. Gonius Rex has a vast collection of styles; but all of the rasps, moans, and off kilter cleans exists only to enhance the album’s atmosphere.

It’s unfair to single out the guitars and vocals without also mentioning how the high-quality bass sets the foundation for the sprawling melodies. The steady delivery keeps even the most dissonant of the tracks (like the opener) from delving into chaotic mush. It’s an absolutely vital link in the chain between melody and rhythm, and adds plenty of worthwhile moments on its own. Take for example how the bass changes from the third and fourth minutes into “Reverent To The Flames.” It goes from using tremolo notes that complement the blast beats and then shifts to playing a more florid melodic role when the drumming simmers down. This change is really cool because it lets the medieval arpeggio-type melody shine without becoming stale or thin as the song goes on.

In a way, this album is magical because of how it straddles the line between tradition and experimentation so effectively. It’s obviously and unquestionably black metal and weird at the same time. Really weird, but unobtrusively weird. A remarkable example of this balance is in “I Am Him But He Is Not Me.” The last minute and a half of the song has such a ridiculously odd interplay between melodies and rhythms that it will bewilder even the most hardened music listeners. It’s the kind of overly technical mix that absolutely shouldn’t work, but at the same time it sounds remarkable and you could listen to it forever. Such a rare experience in music. Meanwhile, the track still retains its black metal atmosphere. See? Magic.

Despite the album’s abundance of soaring melodies (sometimes reminiscent of Abigor) and grand structures, the closing track has an oddly anticlimactic ending. It feels like the final melody was accidentally cut short. But we’re dealing with Onirik, so we know that it’s an intentional middle finger to cliched endings. The ending is also a sobering reminder of the album’s earlier idiosyncrasies and its weirdness: slow slides on dissonant chords, off kilter moaning vocals, and ornate counterpoint. A reminder is helpful, because all of the album’s unusual elements are incorporated into the songs so smoothly. While countless predictable bands are choking on their own influences in dissonant, traditional, or even experimental black metal; Onirik has welded the styles together (probably better than any other band has) and has created something greater than the sum of its influences.

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