Friday, February 15, 2013
Rings of Saturn - "Dingir"
So after an unintentional but almost-six month lull in music reviews, school is back in session! Today's lesson: Rings of Saturn and their sophomore effort Dingir. Now, we're going to get to the musical assault of ferocity that is Rings of Saturn's 2nd release. But first, I want to tell you about this band as a whole because in all honesty, they deserve far more recognition than they're currently getting.
Dingir was originally slated for a late November 2012 release. But by October the band had been sucked into a miasma of petty litigation concerning their name, former band members were making specious accusations about recording techniques, and an unfinished, low-quality version of the album had been leaked to the internet. Things were grim, to say the least. But then, Rings of Saturn made an incredibly bold move. Rather than posting a guilt-tripping PSA about internet piracy with B-list celebrities and a parade of judgmental staring, Rings of Saturn released the high-quality official album as a free download through Total Deathcore saying, "If everyone is going to be listening to our new album, we would much rather have everyone listen and jam out to our high quality finished product and share that...we ask that you please still pre-order or purchase our album when it drops on Feb. 5th to support us."
That's right. Rings of Saturn threw themselves on the good will of their fans, and actually - literally - put their money where their mouth is. The ethical issues with music piracy aside, it's hard to care too much when stars with private jets and mansions speak out against piracy because it hurts their "livelihood." And it's downright impossible not to laugh when "thug" rappers whose music revolves around glorifying a life of crime decry piracy because it's stealing. So when I saw that post on Rings of Saturn's Facebook, my jaw practically hit the keyboard. Here is a band who, regardless of what you think about their music, is actually doing what they do because they love making music.
So I decided to actually buy an album which - up to that point in time - I didn't have any major plans on purchasing; just on principle.
Here's the scoop on "Dingir"....
I've had a number of non-metalhead friends ask me who I think the heaviest band is, or which is generally the most brutal. It's a tough question to answer, not unlike asking "Who is the most beautiful woman in the world?" It's largely a question of taste, with a loosely-defined but still tangible set of rules. So for example, magazines might put out a list of the "hottest" who's-who and you might personally agree, or change the order around in your head or whatever; it's all about degrees. Similarly, there are a number of bands that plenty of people would agree that - like it or not - produce music that is extreme and punishing and brutal and beyond that threshold it's a matter of taste.
For me personally, "heaviest" is a balance between technical prowess, down-tuned aggression, and utter chaos. Too much of any one of these qualities can move a given band out of the running for my makeshift "Top Five" - but generally speaking bands in the death metal genre (and its subgenres) are the heaviest. Which brings me to Rings of Saturn...
Dingir is easily one of the heaviest, most brutally punishing collections of technical death metal I've ever had the pleasure of gradually going deaf to. That list of qualities I mentioned in the previous paragraph are whittled to near pitch perfect balance in this album; the sonic chaos is unbridled, but reinforced by the kind of instrumental technical mastery that still lets you find a rhythm to which you can bang your head.
"Objective to Harvest" opens with an ominous, ten-second soundscape swell to a rapid-fire guitar riffing and breakneck drum-work that calls to mind the sound of automatic assault rifles. Or consider "Peeling Arteries," which employs an almost groove-like riff around which the rest of the audible carnage pivots.
Rings of Saturn is known for their high-speed, high-note picking patterns that weave in and out of their symphony of destruction, with a kind of comical whimsy. At times it sounds almost video-gamey; like the original 8-bit music from Mario has been possessed by the murderous souls of alien invaders and unleashed upon the listener's fragile ears. It's a big part of what sets Rings of Saturn apart from similar technical death metal acts like The Faceless or Abiotic. The opening moments of "Faces Imploding" is a great example of this earmark. Or, maybe you're among those of my readers who don't care for "screaming music." Fair enough - if you want to dip your toe into this album without going for a real swim, the final track on Dingir - "Utopia" - is an instrumental. Comparably speaking, it's pretty melodic - easily the least heavy song in their entire catalog, but still demonstrative of their skill as musicians.
I'm at a loss for new adjectives to describe Dingir, and the band overall, as their music is consistently brutal, punishing, vicious, and merciless throughout. But I will say I prefer Dingir to the band's debut album Embryonic Anomaly. Similar to the minor shift between iwrestledabearonce's first and second albums, Dingir has sacrificed none of the band's brutality by honing their sound and making it more precise.
Dingir so precariously balances on the axiom between unintelligible chaos and technical proficiency that at times it's hard to be sure if there is an actual time signature or if the band members are flailing about. A quick look through the videos on their YouTube channel, demoing their songs and giving walkthroughs will banish your suspicions. But Dingir is a pretty polarizing album; either you love it or you hate it, and plenty of people hate it.
I'm tempted to mention the album's relative brevity, at over just 41 minutes. But at an average speed of...*punches buttons on calculator*...14,873,933 beats-per-minute, it's little wonder. Hyperbole aside, the album rarely dips below the 100 bpm threshold.
If you're a fan of technical death metal, Dingir is in a class all its own in terms of sheer scope and savagery. Rings of Saturn is another one of those bands that has a pretty outspoken group of "haters," and I'm completely baffled as to why. Roughly comparable tech-death bands like The Faceless or Spawn of Possession don't inspire near the amount of keyboard-pounding, so what gives? Honestly, I think all the "hating" on Rings of Saturn is a simple case of sour grapes. In their late teens and early twenties, the entire band was already more musically skilled than most of us will ever be in an entire lifetime. And I'll admit, their no-holds-barred-all-out assault on traditional song structure almost makes you want to plop down in front of your computer in your Mom's basement and pound out a rant on your keyboard until she tells you to stop making such a racket.
But if you can resist the urge to join the hater-herd long enough to listen to these guys, particularly Dingir, you might find a new favorite. At the very least, it's impossible to deny their musical skill. And for every forum post questioning their ability to play the unforgivably intricate music they write, there's a YouTube video of them live or in the studio playing without any effects or tricks aiding the sound.
The experience of listening to Dingir is not unlike having all of your nightmares funneled directly into your ear drum; vocalist Ian Bearer's influences (like the late Mitch Lucker, most notably) are readily apparent and he brings a vicious vehemence to every shriek and growl. Musically, this album is terrifying. But if you're a fan of extreme metal, that's most likely what you're looking for.
I'm still trying to wrap my head around Dingir; it's so unapologetic in its commitment to sonic insanity that I'm still left feeling somewhat incredulous, with gallow's laugh lurking in the back of my throat at the end of each track. But conceptually, any artist that's willing to commit to their music and their fanbase by giving their fans the option to download it for free has won my undying respect. So the fact that I'm actually enjoying the album is just whipped cream on the waffle.