Label: Horror Pain Gore Death Productions
Release Date: 26 January, 2018
There’s something special about a sophomore release. The uncertain anxiety which once produced a full length debut has all but evaporated, leaving a collective confidence and the voracious hunger for perfection. A band’s energy and innovation have been steeled by experience, thus creating the perfect storm for a masterpiece. A number of albums follow this archetype: Unquestionable Presence, Leprosy, A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Consuming Impulse, Ride the Lightning, Paranoid. Today, I’m thrilled to add Pasung to their ranks; with Beldam’s second release, they have taken doom metal to new heights and crafted an underground gem which will survive as an early contender for album of the year.
Beldam have gone through a few changes since their last album, Still the Wretched Linger. The band moved to Seattle to join the incredible metal scene in the pacific northwest, leaving behind former vocalist Stanley Stepanic to his job teaching Slavic literature at University of Virginia. As with so many bands coming out of the area, the dreary weather provided Beldam with a perfect environment to create sludgy, hopeless doom metal. Pasung progresses at a trudging pace to make absolutely sure you’ve taken time to drink in the thick-as-a-brick tone and to digest the grim ambiance. The creative intent we find in the pacing is mimicked in every other facet of the album; Beldam spent almost a year just on pre-production to create a nearly perfect product, and it shows. Several nuances and subtleties appear throughout the 48 minute endeavor, which adds a beautiful layer of polish to the album. It feels cohesive, intentional, and clean in spite of its abrasive and oftentimes difficult material.
Pasung’s first track, “Vial of Silence,” begins with a single guitar playing a rapid perfect fourth interval which leads into a fast, pleasant riff within a clearly defined scale. A roll of the snare, and we’re suddenly thrust into a blackened frenzy of blast-beats, tremolo picking, and Randall Guidry’s menacing vocals shrieking above the mix. This section stands apart from the rest of the album, as we never see this particular brand of aggressiveness going forward. There are no more blast-beats, melody gives way to dissonance, and speed is only recognized relative to the sludgy muck we find in the rest of the album. While the choice to only incorporate these elements briefly at the beginning is a bit odd, it does work really well. “Vial of Silence” immediately grabs the listener’s attention and injects them with anticipation that any given doom riff could erupt into a violent outburst.
The first three songs feature the sort of hate-filled nihilistic doom which bands like Primitive Man have brought to the fold in recent years. The music can become obtuse and esoteric at times, but that isn’t a criticism by any means. Beldam intentionally feed the listener overwhelming, difficult music in order to provide a deeper contextual enjoyment when the slow, churning drone breaks into a more familiar Sabbath inspired riff. Pasung plays with the tension between discord and congruity beautifully by building anxiety in the music and providing relief just at the moment that it starts to become overbearing.
Beldam’s emotional manipulation of the listener goes beyond individual tracks and is worked into the framework of the album itself. After getting through the dissonant slog of the album’s first half, the second half provides more variation in dynamic range, tempo, and technique. After being bludgeoned over the head with crushing riffs, the listener’s perseverance is rewarded with moments of masterful songwriting, as is apparent on the longest song Pasung has to offer, “One from the Stable.” The track begins with another heavy-as-fuck riff, but this time allows the listener to bask in waves of distortion while Cullen Wade provides some impressive drum fills. The introduction to this song has a unique avant-garde feel, where the time signature practically dissipates and the song only moves on when the band “feels” ready. There’s a layer of authenticity added by this approach, as though you can practically see Beldam collectively deciding to continue the song. We move towards a more traditional doom approach for the middle of the song, with a 3/4 time riff which wails and screams above the mix, and a 4/4 time riff which moves around the accent beat, making it difficult to count and follow. While progressiveness tends to be the antithesis of doom at times, these change-ups add a lot of layers to the track and give it an intriguing texture. Adding to the texture is the ending of the song, which is an absolute frenzy compared to the rest of Pasung. After a quick bass fill, Beldam launch into a 120 BPM uproar. The riff here alternates between a straight 4/4 feel and a 4:3 polyrhythm, which adds a driven intent to the track. Doom is often judged by the weight a single note caries, and each note here punches through here with the band’s passion and energy. “One from the Stable” displays a lot of creativity and subtlety in the songwriting, while being backed by an impressive sonic landscape. For my money, it’s the best song on the album and displays Beldam’s best characteristics.
Another highlight is the closing track, “That Which Consumes You.” Here, lyrical themes and the musical medium align in perfect harmony. Much of the song is spent on a lethargic, abrasive, and deliberate passage which repeats ad nauseam. The repetition has merit, though, in the context of the lyrics. Throughout this section, Guidry cycles through several lines. While the full lyrics were unavailable to me at the time of writing this review, it sounds as though he’s saying:
What have I lost;
What can cause this immeasurable pain;
What have I done;
What can make a man feel like this;
It’s not entirely clear whether Guidry is pointing to a specific event or feeling, but overall the theme of the song falls into depression and grief. The title of the song, “That Which Consumes You,” perfectly encapsulates the phenomenology of a deep, all-consuming depressive state. In these moments, the mind will fixate on a single thought and repeat it back to the agent through a feedback loop which amplifies the feelings of dread and hopelessness. As such, the song repeats these lines and the riff underneath until it’s burned into the listener’s head and cannot be escaped. The song even attempt to break out of these patterns for a brief moment; at 6:01, Beldam suddenly jump into an up-tempo beat and give the song new life. The life is quickly extinguished, however, we drop back into the repetitious depression of the preceding riff at 6:23. As with depression, moments of clarity and life can often be short-lived and drowned out by the noise of negativity.
By the end of the song, grief gives way to a furious release of energy, with Guidry screaming the title to the song, a frantic drum solo, and the steady feedback of guitars slowly guiding us to the end. “That Which Consumes You” packs a ton of raw emotion which cuts right through the abrasive exterior to provide a fitting end to Pasung. I’d highly recommend listening to the album on repeat, as it actually transitions perfectly back to the opening track and that beautiful perfect fourth. Whether this is intentional or not remains unclear, but in my first listen I actually hadn’t realized that the album had cycled through until partway through “Sunken Sorceress.”
Beldam’s hard work and dedication have paid off immensely with Pasung. Not many bands are willing to uproot their lives, move across the country, and spend a year on pre-production to perfect their craft, but Beldam have a lot to show for it. Pasung offers a swath of variety without sacrificing precision, as shown by the careful details Beldam have implemented to make repeat listens rewarding. After listening to the album more than a dozen times over the past two weeks, I still haven’t gotten tired of it and I’m still just scratching the surface of their clever songwriting choices. Beldam have laid the groundwork for a breakout record in Pasung, and they look like they have plenty of steam for the years ahead.
1. Vial of Silence
2. Sunken Sorceress
3. Shed the Coil
4. One from the Stable
5. Carrion Feast
6. That Which Consumes You
Total Playing Time: 48:21