It's been almost five years since transatlantic metallers Ephel Duath unleashed their dark experimental album Through My Dog's Eyes – a groundbreaking release which stirred multiple genres (including death, doom and black metal, progressive rock, gothic post-punk, even touches of avant-garde jazz) into a sinister and seductive brew that I found simultaneously unnerving and thrilling. After departing their label, they followed last year with the EP On Death and Cosmos, already hinting at a more ambitious project to come.
Photo by Bonnie Rae Mills
On their fifth full-length album Hemmed by Light, Shaped by Darkness, founder & guitarist Davide Tiso is accompanied by a suitably eclectic lineup of artists: alt-metal icon Karyn Crisis on lead vocals, skilled jazz & metal bassist Steve DiGiorgio, and veteran drummer Marco Minnemann of prog-rock unit The Aristocrats. The team is joined by acclaimed producer and metal legend Erik Rutan of Hate Eternal, who contributed additional guitar tracks and backing vocals. Combined with Tiso's abstract and surreal approach to songwriting, this mighty lineup takes the band to a new level of dark, heavy and complex music that will ultimately reward anyone who dares to accept the challenge.
The gauntlet is thrown down immediately with the opening cut "Feathers Under My Skin," which shifts rapidly and unpredictably between a loose, jazzy rhythmic style (both DiGiorgio and Minnemann have extensive jazz and fusion backgrounds, including gigs with guitar god Joe Satriani) and searing vocals served up by the versatile Crisis. Tiso's intricate guitars keep the near-chaos in check, while at the same time spiraling off into some eerie, twisty flourishes.
"Tracing the Path of Blood" continues in very much the same mode and tempo (with a more menacing vocal edge), but an even more varied sonic spectrum emerges in the excellent "When Mind Escapes Flesh," a scary piece sporting monolithic riffs and tormented vocals. Rutan shreds some mighty leads of his own for "Within This Soil," weaving complex harmonies and easily confirming his death metal pedigree. Crisis brings an occasional melodic edge to her aggressive delivery in "Those Gates to Nothing," complimenting the schizophrenic nature of the rhythms and Tiso's crawling fretwork, and the tension ramps up further in "Through Flames I Shield" before the album suddenly shifts into a much more pensive vibe for the acoustic instrumental mood piece "Hemmed by Light," an odd tangent that's ultimately left behind for the frantic, jazz-inflected closer “Shaped by Darkness.”
Due to constantly evolving song structures, shifting textures and rhythms and a lack of obvious hooks, Hemmed by Light, Shaped by Darkness is not what I'd call a laid-back listen. But like most art on the darker side of the spectrum, this music is not created to soothe you with familiarity; it's an unsettling but ultimately satisfying experience, and the diverse lineup of artists transports their sound into a haunting new dimension. It might scare you a bit, but just kill the lights and hang on; you'll find out exactly why it works.
If you still need convincing, here's another sample – the haunting and complex "When Mind Escapes Flesh.”