“Experimental” and “avant-garde” may be the most overused and misapplied words in the entirety of the metal lexicon. Not because they are bad words to use generally (they are, in fact, quite good), but mainly because there’s no way in hell for a listener to know what a writer is using as a frame of reference when utilizing them. They could mean anything from the wackiness of Igorrr to the hellishness of Deathspell Omega or the odd angularity of Dodecahedron. The experimental or avant-garde monikers are completely useless without context, and therein lies the rub: How do you draw comparison to that which is exceptionally unique? I know, big dumb intro about semantics. But it’s a conversation worth having while discussing Italian Dodecaphonic Metal quartet Descent Into Maelstrom and their very solid sophomore record Iconoclasm. Off the top of one’s head, it would be fairly easy to categorize Descent Into Maelstrom as just another notch in the very long belt that is experimental death metal. But such a descriptor sells this band short. Iconoclasm is very far from an album hell-bent on nothing more than novelty, instead utilizing death metal tropes that are easily recognizable but are presented in interesting, unique ways. It’s an album that feels on the surface like it’s attempting to obfuscate and confuse, but such an interpretation of this music would be surface level. Hidden just below the surface of this initially imposing record are clearly defined melodic themes and riffs that create an immensely inviting and accessible listening experience that only deepens in richness with repeat listens, and in doing so create on the whole an assured album and remarkably compelling listening experience.
The juxtaposition of the experimental and traditional contained within this record come screaming out of the gate with “The Misanthrope”, which opens with an acoustic barrage that sets the tone for the rest of the album. Rather than diving headlong into technical badassery the band instead create menacing, odd textures with what’s happening around the center of the composition, rather than in the melodies themselves. Eerie voices lilt and flow in the background of the track, layering the guitar, bass, and drum-work with an overall sense of disquiet and unease. All this coupled with vocalist Andrea Bignardi’s guttural, hellish delivery creates a near perfect amount of ghoulishness. It’s a great opening track, and the record doesn’t relent from there. While “Saturn” follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, the “Red Gaze” is another beast entirely. Opening with a cavernous, expansive guitar intro, the track quickly builds into something incredibly heavy, incorporating blast beats in a way that adds an immense amount of power and propulsion to the rest of the music swirling about them. Subsequent track “The Grim” includes some of the album’s most memorable riffs and melodic lines, while “Forgotten Wisdom” allows the band’s emotive style of songwriting to reach its creative peak. The record’s final three tracks deliver much of the same, creating an album that is uniform and devastating in its delivery and objective.
While the more experimental tendencies of this type of music often get the headlines, it’s often the more accessible elements that make records like these work. Descent Into Maelstrom balance between experimentation and accessibility with an incredible amount of skill, creating a record that is both adventurous and infinitely listenable. A stirring album from a band that is absolutely worth investing your time and energy in.
Grab the album from Bandcamp here.