Dirge, named after a song performed at a funeral, are a long-standing French band from Paris. Formed in 1994, the band can look back on quite a few releases, some of them highly praised by critics, and appearances at important festivals like Roadburn. Lost Empyrean, the album at hand, is their seventh long player. While Dirge’s beginnings were industrial and experimental, today, they play mostly atmospheric post-metal.
The music on their new album is first and foremost crushingly heavy and cold. Monumental riffs are combined with icy atmospheric sounds and deep, growly vocals or unemotional spoken word passages. Repetitive and meditative parts do not warm up the mood, they just intellectualize it. The press material included a band photo taken in a wintry landscape, which, considering the album’s sound, makes very much sense. The sound is basically the absence of warmth turned into music. The lyrics are mostly unintelligible, but the track titles in combination with the artwork will give you an idea of the album’s themes.
Lost Empyrean can mean lost light, lost heaven or even lost paradise. In the album’s abstract cover art, you can see at least three things and they can all be put in relation to each other: a planetary orbit in space, a cell, or some kind of bacteria growing in a petri dish. The geometrical shapes and lines establish links to maths, physics and science in general. The title of the first track, Wingless Multitudes, carries a bit of misanthropy and makes me think of swarms of insects. Hosea 8 7 is referring to a specific verse in the Old Testament by Hosea, the prophet of doom (and also quite a misogynist), stressing the universal law of cause and effect. The last track Sarracenia got its name from a genus of carnivorous plants. The only track title to lighten up the tangled and rather gloomy picture is A Sea of Light.
While there is nothing obvious to complain about, except maybe for the fact that the album’s sound and theme are not entirely new, I must say that I have problems relating to Lost Empyrean. It’s not easy to describe why that’s the case, but I’ll try. First of all, I don’t like the coldness. It feels macho. Also, I miss the investigative experimentation of earlier releases. There is something positive in experimenting, even something fun. Compared to their last EP Alma Baltica, which we also reviewed here and which I like a lot, this feels somewhat crude and deterministic, like a whole dimension is missing. I am well aware of the fact that all of this might be intended. I know that there’s nothing fun about perseverance in the face of approaching doom and that we do not all share the same worldview. But whatever the reason for the album’s mood, it prevents me from relating fully to the music or identifying with what is being expressed. And I imagine I’m not the only listener who will feel that way.