Where to start with this one? Well after the first somewhat baffling play it was a case of looking up more information on the band and I noted that this lot from St Petersburg in Russia contained both members of Depicting Abysm in their trio of players. Yes this was the band whose latest album ‘Immersion’ very recently got a complete and utter drubbing on this site, one that having heard once and just about made to the end of I could only wholeheartedly agree with the reviewer; it was a particularly awful album. This did not bode too well for Epitimia and their fourth full length as it is a really complex double album taking up almost 2 hours of music.
Conceptually it is divided into ‘Delusion’ disc 1 and ‘Illusion’ disc 2 and although from there it is segmented into tracks, the listening experience is to be taken as a whole and for me further division than the two discs themselves kind of flew out the window. To nail it down genre wise is not an easy undertaking as there is lots happening. I suppose post black metal would be its base point with avant-garde and progressiveness at its core. That is in its simplest form, as the first disc quickly confirms. Passages of saxophone brood over layers of maudlin and sombre melodies, jazz parts flirt and the main vocals of K are throaty and raw although not as horridly shrieking and unlistenable as they were in his other band. Things are on the whole dense, obtuse and tricky to get to grips with. A sudden off kilter gallop reminds of the strangeness of the likes of Ved Buens Ende and some of the weirder denizens of the Norwegian scene before the music oddly downs tools and goes down a brief acoustic jaunt. It’s best not to question what you are hearing and just see where it is going but I found this all a bit like having eaten far too much food leaving feeling uncomfortable and bloated and even needing to purge myself of it. This kind of made it all the less palatable as after playing and finishing it is all the more difficult to remember and describe and it has taken far more plays than my sanity deserved to get anywhere near to grips with this. That’s before we even get to the theme behind it all. “Un(r)eality is like a limbo” where the narrative focus of the person behind it all exists in a life that is “infinite and artificial.” It is left to his dreams to colour it all and I guess these could be portrayed as some of the unexpected twists and turns of the music like a sudden Spanish sounding acoustic guitar part coming out of the otherwise depressive ether. I have to admit I’m not at all convinced by the low vocal growls either, they bite but also gnaw away in a fashion that begins to also wear me down a bit. Throw in sudden operatic parts and bursts of Zappa like prog and the whole experience left me spinning and feeling disorientated.
I was really quite surprised therefore on playing the second disc to find that we have moved from a place that I found confounding and claustrophobic into one much looser and less constrictive and to be honest it was like a breath of fresh air. I felt like I had come out of the darkness and into the light. The tone and mood is augmented with a more glistening shoe (black) gaze mindset, harmonies waft around the blackened rasps and clean vocals also paint brighter hues on it all. That said this is still in places as oblique and experimental and no carbon copy of bands such as An Autumn For Crippled Children or Deafheaven although at times it is reminiscent of both. The band have expanded on some of the ideas that fleetingly popped up on the first disc. One of these is the very noticeable choral opera vocals of female vocalist ‘M’ who gives the music a bit of a divine and reverential touch. There is also some more genre breaks in the form of electronica, trip-hop, dub and even a splash of brief reggae. So although the music on the whole feels a lot less stifling it does not mean that there is particularly less in the way of experimentation going on so it’s not a complete case of resting on your laurels and thinking you have it all sussed out. Having said that this is one hell of a lot easier to get to grips with than the first album and I followed it a lot quicker, almost from the first listen.
This makes it all the more confounding as how would I approach this in the future on coming back to it now the review is written? Naturally the easy way out is to play the second album and simply enjoy on that level but then I would tend to find myself cheating and not getting the full experience of listening to the album in the way it was designed. It’s a bit of a paradox that’s for sure. The album took over two years hard work to write apparently, well I am sure most albums do and some bands take much longer to formulate a work. As far as one of this depth is concerned I could easily imagine it taking 5 years plus to construct. Finding the exact right audience to appreciate it fully is, I feel, going to be the hardest part of the overall experience though.
(7/10 Pete Woods)