The View from Here: A Review of DAMNUM by Allegaeon

The View from Here: A Review of DAMNUM by Allegaeon

(Metal Blade Records)

Released February 25, 2022

Review by Weirding Batweilder

What does it mean to pluck something out of thin air? The thought passes through my mind for the first thirty-five or so seconds of the new Allegaeon album, DAMNUM. Some four minutes later, bludgeoned by hammer-walloping drums, seized by tight twin electric harmonies, and scorched by a breath of fire and ash, I’ve already forgotten what my question was.

Enter the paradoxes. Whispers of bustling streets. Buried angels. Impermanent permanence.

And then everything comes together in the third track, “Into Embers”. The electric bass locking so tightly with the kick drum that it begins to sound like one organ — a great esophagus of slippery meat throttled between butcher-slice knife work (otherwise known on this planet as shredding guitar and unrelenting arpeggios and razor-gaunt tone).

I pick my head up off of the floor and refix my ears just in time for class. (I’ve got that recurring dream, too. The one where we are back in school and constantly missing class, or a test, or something). But as I rearrange my things on my desk, the drum battery blasts of “To Carry My Grief Through Torpor and Silence” begin and there I am taking notes as the professor fills a graying chalkboard with numbers and formulae.

But there is something more than esoteric calculus in these songs. “Vermin”, the album’s well-positioned fifth song captures melody both in the song proper as well as in a beautifully crafted solo just past the song’s mid-point and recurring in a more rhythmically nuanced display before the song exits itself in a thunderclap of toms and severe riffing.

An aside. There are many ways to tell a story. But good storytellers often tend to have this way of pulling you away from the story for a moment to tell you something — almost as if in a private grotto where they are providing you, and you personally, with some privileged information that is going to give you a unique insight into the story being told, insight that the rest of those listeners out there in the audience are never going to get.

Allegaeon are good storytellers.

And so it is that the first half of the album ends with a bit of a diversion into secret sharing. The song, “Called Home”, is a stunning piece of songcraft and it acts as a bridge between worlds — containing all of the elements of the sonic territory unearthed by the band. It is technical but presented not as something as fixed as a map or trigonometric rendering, but more something allowing for misinterpretation and therefore it foreshadows more of the adventure to await in the second half of the album — it is a message delivered by a stranger on horseback.

About three minutes and forty-five seconds into that second half of the album, we are greeted by backup vocal harmonies that are then mirrored in another wicked electric guitar solo. The listener comes to notice here the interplay — and while Allegaeon is a band that has inspired conversation about the line between technical capability and songwriting facility, it is in a close listen to that interplay and how it extends into the exchanges between bass, drums, and synth in the following track, "The Dopamine Void, Pt. 1", that you recognize that this is more than the musical equivalent of a knowing nod. Rather, the band seems to thrive in the place where these interplays occur — whether in the knot-tight connection between bass and kick, the motifs of melody sharding across differential solos, or in the coupled reciprocity between the harsh and the clean vocals. Allegaeon does not dally in “this” or “that”... they rush to bloom in “all of it”.

That is not to say that this isn’t an album that revels in its own technicality. In creating the musical universe that the album lives in, the band has thankfully left the odd bird parts in — including the bits of proginess that peak through the tumult in the ferocious “Saturnine”. The ability to be consciously self-conscious is a trait that allows the musicians to introduce a universe unto itself and do so unapologetically. And the result is more than a mere handshake between progressive elements and death metal elements, this self-consciousness by its very nature brings to the music a distinct vantage point and sonic observation platform that allows a transcendent view — providing access to a perspective tableau from high above the songs themselves. The view is what you are paying for.

The ferment. The limitlessness of it all. But as suddenly, we are fading and falling out of or through a hole in this universe. And the album closes as it had opened. A single guitar, a simple line. And I am left in the loop of my own questioning mind. What does it mean to pluck something out of thin air?


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