Dzö-Nga - The Sachem's Tales
Avantgarde Music
Atmospheric Black Metal
7 songs (47' 51")
Release year: 2017
Avantgarde Music
Reviewed by Andy

Having popped up only a year ago, Bostonian duo Dzö-Nga produces a series of beautiful tracks on The Sachem's Tale consisting of nature-themed BM, wilfully ignoring the fact that the ABM world is crammed with the stuff. Listeners will be happy that they press forward despite this fact, because Dzö-Nga's sense of atmospheric fantasy is breathtaking.

They've got a rather unusual approach. The primary (and, in the past, the only) member, Cryvas, takes care of all the music, black metal screams, drum programming, and so forth. On this one he's taken on a partner: Grushenka Ødegård, a soft-voiced female singer whose pipes go nicely with the stringed instruments, acoustic guitars, and tinkly piano that the metal part gets sandwiched into -- not to mention plenty of rain and thunder samples. Black metal is used very sparingly but effectively: When heavy guitars kick in, they're the loudest instrument on the track, but the way Cryvas has it mixed, the lows and highs are turned way down to let the vocals and the pianos get equal play, resulting in the guitars becoming a hollow, thrumming tension through the music. Cryvas's own blackened vocals aren't really anything to write home about, though they get the job done -- Ødegård's vocals are, if anything, underutilized, and I'd like to hear more of them instead of Cryvas's. But he rises above himself on A Seventh Age of Fire in the gravity of his clean chorus, sung over the black metal portions with the otherworldly quality that Midnight Odyssey can evoke.

Of course, it would be easy for this to turn into an awful mess, especially given the lack of interest the two seem to have in the drums, which sound like they come from a bargain-basement programming kit and are turned down so flat and high that the only thing they do effectively is mark the beat. But it's a different drum's beat to which Dzö-Nga marches, and perhaps they feel that the drums would only get in the way of all the lush acoustic instruments, of which, as mentioned, there are many. If it was just a bunch of folk instruments playing the same riffs as the guitars or laying down symphonic backgrounds, things would go bad in a hurry, but these two know how to make a song's melodic line soar with Ødegård's singing or just with a shimmering keyboard backing at the right moment of the chorus, such as on The Wolves Fell Quiet, one of the more metal-oriented songs on the album. Against the Northern Wind is another high point, with Cryvas playing a little acoustic ditty one moment and then blasting over the top of it with those hollow metal riffs the next, and ghostly cries echoing through it all.

There are plenty of derivative ABM bands these days that clone the British or Cascadian greats with enough new-age sappiness to depress the saccharine market. The Sachem's Tale is the exact opposite of this trend, a glorious synthesis of the heavy and the delicate that shows what the best atmospheric black metal projects can accomplish. ABM listeners are probably going to love this, but darkwave and neofolk types should take notice too.

Bandcamp: https://avantgardemusic.bandcamp.com/album/the-sachems-tales.

Killing Songs :
The Wolves Fell Quiet, Against the Northern Wind, A Seventh Age of Fire
Andy quoted 92 / 100
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