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The immortality syndrome | FESTIVALPHOTO

The immortality syndrome



A review of SYN:DROM’s Iconoclasm

By Amanda Beadman

Iconoclasm is the latest offering from Swedish death metal band SYN:DROM. The release launches itself at the world without a backward step in the opening song, Black Dawn, with a brain drilling drum assault that sets the pace and the standard for the unravelling of the first two tracks.
There are occasional disruptive jolts to the relentless rhythm and growling, intense vocals, with these deviations more often adopting a cut and thrust formula where the guitar spirits itself out from beneath the density of the vocal layering to momentarily take centre stage – before ushering the commanding vocals back into their centrifugal position of dominance.
There are moments when the frenetic pace of the drums seems almost matched by the guitar, giving a sense of two mediums both under the lording presence of a common muse who seeks only to propel them faster, harder and more recklessly into some kind of discordant musical fusion.
The guitar playing is superb, with wild forays into ecstatic heights and doom-laden lows – punctuated by screeching sabbaticals and darkly-starred meanderings into places that are best left undisturbed.
The timing in these tracks is nearly always perfect, with descent courting crescendo and the layering of tonalities and melody deftly interwoven throughout the whole.
The vocals in Black Dawn build to a reverberating throwing down of the gauntlet send off at the song’s culmination.
A Silent Void brings menacing undertones, with pounding, ominous bursts of sound that come at the listener with equal parts of immediacy and urgency.
The drums are harder and the different mood is matched by vocals with a more demonic, sharper edge, riding on the beguiling, unspoken promise of volatility and frenzy.
The guitar riffs are again a high point, and play a key role in an interesting segue in the latter part of the mid section, where the drumming takes on a lighter, frenetic pace and the rhythm abates, like a beast slowing itself, regathering and amassing its strength for a final onslaught.
The next track, Cold Existence, is a stand out.
The vocals are much more adventurous – following different expressive tangents almost to the point of embodying a range or characters throughout a series of possessions.
Rage becomes venomous; growls become extended gravelled testimonials or short sharp screeching bursts of aggrieved and intimidating fervour.
There is an unanticipated moment early on in this track where the momentum is thwarted and led on a jagged downward spiral into a deeper chasm of doom. A tolling bell would not be out of place here, and the pace is delectably slow, sparing of energy, and infused with a promise of chaos to come.
This sinister prologue leads to an ebb of strange melodies and once again there is a sense that we are being led onwards into a territory defined by menace. The guitar seems to take on a palpably different persona and we discover the reborn-schizoid vocals as a kind of bridge between discordant and duelling musical worlds.
The vocals here forsake the heavy solidity of the death growl and scale new heights with blood-curdling shrieks, unrestrained drama and shredded bare rawness. This is vocal orchestration that isn’t trying to please – having pared itself back to the nasty core of viscera and bone where all that matters is the release, and the chance to bear testament to darkness unbridled.
These same vocals, which started out at such a fast pace in this track, took a turn towards something dimly beautiful in the middle of the first half of the song, when they strangely kept pace with the mounting tension and climbing rhythm of both the drums and the guitar. Just as the three core elements begin to move parallel and with some semblance of synchronicity, the vocals were pelted back to earth by grinding beats and then led astray once more against the backdrop of a sinister, withering dose of guitar playing that was nearing the edges of mania.
Again, there is a sense of demonic possession, perhaps non-religious, perhaps purely creative in nature….but the many colours and shades beneath the bludgeoned black soundscape on offer throughout all of the songs on Iconoclasm are a writhing mass of tendrilled, amplified and bestial personas.
The best moments are when these competing musical personas try to beat each other to death with rhythm, melody or sheer audible violence.
The lesser moments see them flit around each other in preparation for an onslaught.
The power and the majesty, coupled with so many jagged edges, come together to create something remarkable in Cold Existence.
This is a sound that pulls its venom and impetus, deliberately or subconsciously, from wild rages etched in antiquity. It comes from the most ancient of places – that dark part of the human heart – a place of thrones and blood and Armageddon.
And yet, the form it takes is brutal and immediate, and its rage is essentially built from the discord and anathema of the here and now – our 21st Century and beyond.
Rage has always been rage, power has always been power, and darkness has always cast a shadow wherever others may choose to see the light.
As such, when death metal reaches into places with an effectiveness and precision like we see in Cold Existence – it reverberates all the more because it touches the most ancient part of ourselves.
Like all art done well, irrespective of genre, it becomes timeless – and in this way, by betraying the weight of its own mantel, death metal achieves immortality by default.
SYN:DROM come terrifyingly close to doing that on the best moments of this release.

Writer: Amanda Beadman
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