Départe – Failure, Subside

As it would seem, Tasmania’s  Départe have decided to try and beat Ulcerate to the melodic cake with their debut, Failure, Subside. That probably makes little sense when one considers the fact that Ulcerate are one of the most oppressive atmospheric tech-death bands on the planet, but in light of their slightly more melodic single, “Extinguished Light”, it seemed fitting that Failure, Subside should make an appearance. One could even say the main thing going for Départe is their implementation of melody. Their breed of post-tinged blackened death metal has all the atonal trappings of Ulcerate, but draws just as strongly from Zhrine and Deathspell Omega. Slow everything down a tad and whack some clean vocals in from time to time and you have a band who are already nearing on a singular identity without compromising fantastic song writing. While this album does have a tendency to follow the norm a little too tightly over its longer tracks, one can hardly argue when the compositions are so enthralling.
Chronological ordering is for weak-minded people (coming from a guy who has to come up with a sprint plan before turning off the last light in the house and heading for bed), so I am going to start this review by talking about the sixth track, “Vessel”. It doesn’t showcase the impressive heights of the band’s technicality, nor is it structured in a way that is particularly praiseworthy. What it does do, however, is tell an intriguing story. It is difficult to form good transitions in metal music because atonality often acts as a one-trick pony; this chord sounds just as weird as the progression of the last riff so it should technically count as a good transition, right? Départe don’t follow this mindset at all, instead opting to create the equivalent of musical cliffhangers. Through clever motifs and builds, every instrument becomes paramount in hooking each transition together. Roughly three minutes and twenty seconds into the track, after a huge atonal build, the song seamlessly transitions into a breakdown. However, by keeping chords ringing, it isn’t immediately evident that this is a breakdown, even though your head has already begun banging and your horns are raised, much to the discomfort of your co-workers who just want that spreadsheet printed. This breakdown, without letting up, transitions into an eerie, airy build. A final crescendo (yes, it keeps building), and the song bursts into clean wailing. Much like a last resort survival mechanism, the vocals are captivating in their honesty. All of this is contained within the third-shortest song on the record, and arguably not even its strongest.
Départe are masters of the build. The entirety of Failure, Subside follows a subtle chiastic formula of vast expanse, chaos, and a return to the vast expanse. “Ashes in Bloom” opens like a jackhammer, subsides into depression, and blows a hole in the wall once again before fading out. “Wither” takes a more doom-driven approach to the same structure: huge, atonal riffs plow the ground, seeds of sobriety grow throughout its middle, only to be violently harvested again by a wave of post-fueled leads and intense percussion. The album interlude itself is a dissonant build, before fading into “Vessel”. The band couldn’t have chosen a better title for this record, because Départe‘s sheer expertise in song flow is unparalleled in 2016. There is no overplaying or over-complicating. Possibly the biggest shock I faced as a listener was when the cleans kicked in towards the tail-end of “Vessel”, and not even because they are clean vocals. Rather, I was understandably expectant of an odd melodic choice, or a key change. Instead, the band stuck to their guns, and presented a simple melody really well. By refraining from complexity, the band instead managed to invoke a stronger emotional response when contrasting this simplicity with the technicality of their musicianship. And damn, they couldn’t have chosen a better place to implement this simplicity.
At the very core of Failure, Subside lies a deep understanding of control. The band don’t have to rely heavily on repeated motif to signify song individualism like many bands within the death metal genre, nor do they make intentional efforts of writing endlessly convoluted compositions which hold little significance to anyone outside of lyrical enthusiasts. Technicality and performance are simply waves in a sea of narrative. They crash and excite, but the true magnificence comes in the understanding that for as far as the eye can see, it is just you and the blue. I think Départe should be damn proud of themselves, because they have proven with a debut to hold the maturity of bands hitting 4th and 5th releases. A fantastically spacious (if not a tad loud) production job further enhances the experience, pushing just the right amount of attack from each instrument into the forefront, keeping even the quieter sections confronting. There is little to fault with Failure, Subside. Maybe sometimes it sounds a little too much like Ulcerate, maybe sometimes it sounds a little too much like Zhrine. If there is one thing Départe do better than any of their current contemporaries, however, that is write a compelling story through sound alone. As “Ruin” came to a close for the first time, I closed my eyes feeling heavy, and knowing without a shadow of a doubt that I had just witnessed something magical.
1. Seas of Glass
2. Ashes in Bloom
3. Wither
4. Grief Echoes (Golden Scars)
5. Mara’s Choir
6. Vessel
7. Ruin

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