Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Daxma - The Head Which Becomes the Skull

Daxma’s debut album The Head Which Becomes the Skull is a solemn post-metal/doom album that responds to the idea of human mortality with a feeling of resignation and inevitability. One part of the band’s approach that really fits in with this overall mood is how the vocals are relatively low in the mix, enhancing the buried and distant feel. While many bands that explore post-metal style à la late-era Isis end up with an unpleasant contrast between gruff vocals and relatively relaxed guitar work, Daxma’s vocals are stark cleans (male and female) that are in harmony with the rest of the band’s instrumentation, which also includes a violin. The vocals are a really critical piece of what make this release work so well, and surprisingly for a band with three members providing vocals we don’t hear any until about a quarter of a way into the release.

When you think of the release’s theme, the song structures and album’s pacing make a lot of sense. It’s a slow march with few diversions along the way, each song melds well into the next one just as the vocals, guitars, and occasional violin meld into another. The narrative isn’t difficult to parse starting with “Birth” and ending with “The Head Which Becomes the Skull,” but this simple theme is probed with a philosophical eye. Without going off on too much of a tangent,  band’s promo materials note that they draw influence from Marxism, so it’s interesting to consider how the band’s song “Aufheben” fits their into a Marxist rather than Hegelian dialectic - to roughly quote the lyrics “There is no space, there is no time, all is death, which shapes our life.” Despite the oppressive theme and homogenous structure, the music is rich enough to make the slow pacing a laid back but engaging listen. 

Basically, Daxma’s approach to spicing up their songwriting is to expand “vertically” by adding harmonic textures to the main melody without deviating too far from it. For example, on “Our Lives Will be Erased by the Shifting Sands of the Desert” even some of the most melodically free violin work tracks close to the guitars and bass. Daxma’s harmonic focus is so strong that the smooth changes between male and female vocals also add detail to the mood without altering the release’s atmosphere. Everything mixes so well that the band doesn’t need much in terms of melody or counterpoint to be successful. With so much of the music consisting of instruments and voices acting in unison it also helps to thicken the sound to the heavier end of post-metal. So while the overall vocal style is more on par with a band like Jesu, the release’s atmosphere is more on the doom metal side. The band’s use of harmony is super cool and you can hear it most powerfully towards the end of “The Head Which Becomes the Skull” where you have harmonized violin, guitars, and vocals. It’s a killer finale to the band’s promising debut album, but it also makes you wish the band played to this strength more often.

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