When you stop to think about it, Black Metal is arguably the most versatile of the Metal genres because it lends itself so readily as a foundation to all manner of musical exploration. Whether that’s the filthy blast-beats of Mayhem and Gorgoroth or the progressive elements of Enslaved, Black Metal’s ability to confound absolute definition and rebel against any form of boundaries is at the heart of the genre itself. Too many bands seem to think that it’s just a matter of corpse-paint and low-fi production; other bands embrace the opportunities and run with the baton. Germany’s Downfall of Gaia have been operational for a little over a decade and in that time have released five albums, the latest of which, Ethic of Radical Finitude, is perhaps their most accomplished.
Three minutes album intro, 'Seduced By', is well named, as it grows in volume, a repetitive, hauntingly simple, guitar line which finally dissipates into the ether to be replaced by a roll of the toms and a harshly melodic riff. Although not as overt as on their early albums, Downfall of Gaia still maintain a punk-element to their sound, though now it is mixed with influences from post-metal and sludge, combined with a smattering of progressive rock. Downfall of Gaia utilise those elements to allow their music to ebb and flow, to represent both storm and calm.
The two shortest tracks on Ethic of Radical Finitude are the most straightforward but not at all the most predictable: 'The Grotesque Illusion of Being' pauses for a moment of contemplation of sparse piano chords accompanied by a high-hat. 'As Our Bones Break to the Dance' maintains its intensity before unleashing a guitar solo seemingly AWOL from a Power Metal record. The musicianship of all four members of Downfall of Gaia is impeccable, whether it be the surprising guitar moments that pepper the album or the monumental work of the rhythm section it feels you are undertaking a complete journey.
The two centre piece track on Ethic of Radical Finitude are the real gems of the album. 'We Pursue the Serpent of Time' is slow-burner, featuring massive drum beats delivered at an almost glacial pace and with Dominik Goncalves dos Reis’ voice alternating between brooding whispers and tortured screams. The development of this track and the following, 'Guided Through a Starless Night', showcase Downfall of Gaia’s massive emotional journey across this album.
While it’s an obvious thing to do to look for comparisons to other bands, it would be to do a disservice to Downfall of Gaia themselves and the imperious record they have created; Ethic of Radical Finitude is already certainly an early runner for one of the most interesting albums of the year.