Desultory – Through Aching Aeons (2017)

Many bands from the classic era of death metal suffered ignominious and often self-inflicted downswings in fortune. The mood that once prevailed to inspire an entire generation of metalheads changed into something altogether base and material in aspect. Following the precedent set by Metallica, a previously noble band like At The Gates streamlined their sound to the point of banality and struck gold. Others strove likewise only to see their legacies tarnished beyond the point of no return. For Desultory, that nadir arrived with 1998’s Swallow The Snake, an assortment of Pantera and Korn cliches that to all appearances embarrassed the band into an early retirement.

A friend suggests that age and maturity grant at least the more percipient among musicians with a wider perspective on the transgressions of their past. So would seem to be the case with Desultory‘s staggered rebirth over the last ten years. Over and above the obvious rediscovery of the sound which made them a band to be reckoned with in the first place, the overwhelming feeling on Through Aching Aeons is that of an ensemble trying to atone for previous sins, not to whatever fans might be left, but, crucially and as would befit a true repentance, to themselves.

The Desultory sound is one part chainsaw Swedish death metal and the rest exquisitely catchy melody. A cursory listen may make Through Aching Aeons seem little different from any other band flaunting these stripes, but where once-contemporaries like Autumn Leaves and In Flames resorted to blatantly mainstream maneuvers, Desultory‘s melodic accessibility on this album does not come at the cost of songwriting integrity. What might initially sound like a made-to-order speed metal riff, bouncing and chugging away to redundancy, is invariably built on and extended with painfully acute harmonic sense; in the greater reckoning, these feverish exertions create intricately textured songs with very real identities and a vague wistfulness.

That melancholy is the defining characteristic of Through Aching Aeons and great European death metal at large. Not given to despair, rather it is the strange bottom-heavy feeling one experiences while reminiscing over a special time of life. The lot in the present might be perfectly satisfactory, but knowing that that time and the situations and actors involved in it are gone forever breeds a certain restlessness of spirit and the realization that you just might be less than you once were. Through Aching Aeons is one of the most sincere expositions of such subjective notions in recent years and a fine way for the band to bow out.

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