Too often popular music treats depression as if it were a strike of lightning, or an extra-sensorial event, entirely separate from whatever normative state unaffected folks feign on a daily basis. The bend of a string, a weeping vocal affect, or a descent into downtempo swooning offer a simplified and fetishistic treatment of sorrow that is altogether inhumane in its core assumption. As if a leaking anesthetic gas tamed by an open window the quiet hysteria of depression might creep in expected waves but its slow numbness is not a light switched on. Just as one might mistake lust for love their entire life so too do countless people confuse self-pity and/or empathetic reaction for a true physical and chemical depressed state. It is a land of shuttered sight, intoxicating obsessions, and such profound avoidance that so many self-pitying fools might count themselves lucky to be only a small percentage of the way there. As the ice melts and refreezes in the stable cycle of collapse and rebuild within the mind hopelessness will inevitably become anhedonia, a depth powerful enough that a few rounds of reasoning or cognitive behavioral changes couldn’t hope to ascend. So many turn to drug, drink, and self-harm regardless though, the normalizing catharsis of music is impossible for the anhedonist, the incurable empath, or the pitiable to resist. Black metal in particular has a wild history of irresponsible and absurdist reactions to mental illness, partially because of weirdly ‘macho’ northern European attitudes in the 1990’s, yet the path beyond the mid 2000’s is smoothed thanks to well-tapped marketability. Thus that catharsis continues to be sold as if natural medicine to relief-seekers and the few that distribute it freely but responsibly as considered art deserve some credit for not becoming entirely manipulative or exploitative. Count Portland, Oregon duo None among the few who’d truly represent the slow and ominous easing of depression into the expectant vessel’s already aching state without prying the listeners pockets free of any loose cash with a crowbar made of tropes and talentless obscuration.
It might be their chosen name or the cold and distant atmospheric values of their collaboration thus far but it seems appropriate that None are an entirely anonymous project devoid of any meaningful extraneous collaboration. Each record features a panoramic photograph, perhaps from the various elevated lakes surrounding the Mt. Hood area based upon the large sedimentary rocks in each, anonymously taken. The music is likewise drafted as something familiar elevated to something more poignant that it probably should be. The generations beyond Hypothermia and Xasthur in ColdWorld and Woods of Desolation would inform a style well-worn but worn well upon the arms of None. ‘Damp Chill of Life’ comes notably with the warmth of Burzum-esque synths and watery production values rescinded in favor of a gravel-stuffed wound of a guitar tone and thinner choice of synth movements. Whereas the previous album was a walk through the snow that’d endanger hypothermic death for the sake of a beautiful view, ‘Damp Chill of Life’ accepts that isolated beauty as a curse and mourns the death of the self in its own narrative consciousness. None are no less contemplative when they’ve cut loose the tendons that’d keep pure despondency at bay, but the feeling here in 2019 is that a life on the edge is taking a serious toll. The wailing lead guitars upon the crux of “It’s Painless to Let Go” break the realm of meditation and express as desperate action, a strike at numbed flesh meant to shatter the blurred-dark tunnel vision of ones own enfeebling self-obsession. The mirror shatters, the psyche broken.
Downtempo depressive post-rock drum patterns, meditative neofolk guitar strumming, accompaniment from piano and acoustic guitar alike all defy the dry and amateurish staples of depressive black metal yet at no point is ‘Damp Chill of Life’ warmed enough to thaw of its atmospheric black metal gnarl. There is a comforting stasis in each composition as they largely soldier on through predictably paced funereal strolls guided by whispers, rasps, and the occasional broken howl (see: “A Chance I’d Never Have”). It won’t satisfy the masochist, those seeking self-harm might relish in certain moments but None have crafted a slow climb rather than a drowning lilt. The full listen is captivating and becomes increasingly final as it reaches the last track but the arc is mere anesthesia, a disaffection that is almost too angelic to feel truly demolished by. Without punishment as part of the listen it’ll feel remarkably repeatable as an experience and I found I could spin the record 2-3 times in a row and still be nowhere near a point of exhaustion. The appeal might have to come from the soft, plodding and lushly balanced raking of the self that it provides as there will me a minimum amount of blood incurred in whatever suffering ‘Damp Chill of Life’ creates.
I can only approach a record of this genre as a dabbler, one who’d avoid the nuance of some of the sub-genres it caresses for the most impactful releases. As a fellow who truly believes he understands the intent and feeling of what None create, I would suggest the greatest strength of this third full-length is its emotionally distant affect. It is not a heart-yanking fall from a high place but a gently numbing erosion that begs to be re-assessed over and over again. That ‘Damp Chill of Life’, the numbed distal regions of the mind and body, is exactly appropriate for the piece and as a description of the intended feeling. Absurd as such linear thought might appear on my end, the experience was satisfying as it was neatly symbolic for this listener. Moderately high recommendation. For preview the title track is perhaps one of their best compositions but I’d also suggest trying “It’s Painless to Let Go” to witness the most profound breaking point within.
Essence envisioned under glass. 3.5/5.0
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