Seems as though every year an album arriving in December blows me right off of my chair. Long after most writers, myself included, have already turned in their best of the year lists, something appears worthy of consideration.
This year, Dirge’s Alma | Baltica is that record.
The French doom/post-metal band has been around for quite some time (their Bandcamp page describing simply, Born in Paris in 1994) releasing Hyperion most recently in 2014 and Wings Of Lead Over Dormant Seas a decade ago. This five-track record, like their others, reaches labyrinthine depths, catacombs of darkness and gloom. The easy comparison might be to a Sunn O))) record, only without dwelling so heavily on the esoteric aspects of cosmic desperation. The sound on Alma | Baltica is frightful, indeed, although it never spills all the way into the realms of ghoulish. Feeling daring? Put this on in mixed company, on the night your lightweight metal friends drop by. Dirge infuses each bleak song with feeling and meaning, but seems comfortable enough to leave it up to the listener to figure out what this all amounts to.
My sense says that this album is about loss – profound loss. I felt that on my first listen, and with each successive time through Alma | Baltica, I personalized that experience. Suddenly, I was listening to something about my losses. The first tracks burn slow, fully of gloomy atmospheres that crumble into fits of percussion and baroque crescendo. “Red Dawn Tibesti” is a curious meld of cosmic and subterranean, in spots reminiscent of what it must be like to see the sky after so much time underground. While I’m normally not a huge fan of chanted vocals, the few times Dirge brings them out, they work really well. They are restrained, evocative and again, highly personal. The guitar production on “Black Shore”, more than half way through the record, prickles the skin, crackling and popping, like they were derived from an ancient, haunted instrument
The affect of Alma | Baltica isn’t really comprehended until the last two tracks play. When “Baltica (Sine Time Reoscillated)” rises and falls into “Pure” the album’s depth unfolds to satisfying end. A few times the culmination forced me to look and around, reconciling a memory, a thought, or an impression. This album works with whatever emotional stuff the listener brings to the table, serving as a much-needed reminder that depth in metal isn’t necessarily something that requires proving.
Rather, depth simply is depth.