The Post / Sludge genre is permanently growing, and for sure the French scene is one of the most prominent ones worldwide. One of my most beloved acts from France is Dirge, hailing from Paris, and active for almost twenty-five years. In the earliest years, the band brought some kind of industrialised and psych-grinding Metal (also quite ‘popular’ in their home country), yet throughout the years they evolved a lot. Dirge recorded and released six albums in the meantime, but the last one, Hyperion (*), was released four and a half years ago. So indeed it took very long, it has been too long, and I was afraid the band was not active anymore. But praise the Lord of Metal, for Marc T. (vocals, guitars, programming), Alain B. (drums), Stéphane L. (vocals, lyrics, guitars, programming), and Luz (bass) are back with a next step within their never-ending progressing career.
Lost Empyrean is the band’s seventh full length (they did, by the way, self-release a digital EP in 2017 – FYI), once again released via France’s finest Debemur Morti Productions (they did celebrate their fifteenth anniversary earlier this year – félicitations, Phil et crew). It will appear on compact disc (digipack), on vinyl (yet highly limited!) and, evidently, via the contemporary digital sources. The material was written and rewritten over a period of two and a half years and recorded at the D. Prod. studio. The result was mixed and mastered at the MyRoom Studio by former (I am still depressed that this Swiss act split up) Kruger drummer Raphaël Bovey (he did some studio work as well for several international acts, such as Rorcal, The Burden Remains, Schammasch, Zatokrev, Nightmarer and many others).
Lost Empyrean consists of seven lengthy tracks (six to ten minutes; which is much more ‘modest’ than on Hyperion) and is, once again, another step within Dirge’s existence. The album, and I will quote, ‘serves as a soundtrack to the dual relationship between the primordial quintessence colliding with the earthly body and the illusory nature of providence upon the somber, meagre trappings of existence’. Yes, it is not meant to make you laugh, unless in a sardonic or cynical way for sure. The album goes on where Hyperion left, or better: it goes further, investigating new facets, experimenting with new elements and ideas, entering new levels of artistic freedom. The fundaments are comparable to the former full length, being rooted within the overpowering heaviness of Sludge. Especially the (magnificent) rhythm section creates that ultimately ‘massive, colossal, gargantuan, monolithic’ (quote from undersigned) heaviness reminiscent to the purity of the Sludge scene. What did not change either is the tempo: so doomy, creating an atmosphere both intense and suppressive. Yet still, despite the slow riffs, everything is so f*cking dynamic and energetic! The whole of the time, throughout this aural journey, there is suspense, things to discover, to uncover, to rediscover. In their crafted professionalism, Dirge are able to persevere in their ability to ‘create’, to ‘explore’, to ‘invent’, without turning into some pathetic will to overtake that what is acceptable.
Another great element is the introduction of dissonant injections (in both sound and performance), interacting with the obscure, dense atmosphere and sometimes dreamlike, floating melodies. This time, the dissonance has nothing to do with eccentric breaks, a difference with the former album. Especially the guitar riffing comes with a noisy ambivalence. This goes so well in interaction with the sometimes hypnotic, almost spiritual leads and melodies. It sort of enlightens, if you want, the obscure depths figuratively painted by this four-piece. Besides, without balancing over towards Post-Rock dimensions, the ‘Post’ aspect did increase too. It’s the elegance of riffing, the delicate transitions, the subtle use of intricate yet natural structures, that shows the fine-tuned excellence of Post-oriented finesse.
On top of a collection of superiorly written and executed compositions, I cannot but mention the excellent production. This one is ‘full’, and I mean that the sound is loud and heavy, yet still maintaining that twist of rawness. Indeed, the sound quality is decent yet totally lacking any form of clinical absurdity. The balance in between every single instrumental element is top-notch – you can perfectly differentiate all ‘individual’ elements – and at the same time the interplay sounds so incredibly organic and fluent.
It is incredible how Dirge succeed to combine emotion with harshness, disgust with passion, extraversion with integrity, persuasion with subtlety, but somehow it works. Lost Empyrean is, once again, a Dirge masterpiece, and I do hope we do not have to wait such long time again to enjoy a next recording. Dear guys, what about Spring 2019?...