The most interesting bands are not the ones that come out of the box ready made to ingest. The best shift like a sea at storm, creating and destroying, adding and taking back what it wants. Downfall of Gaia too has continued to adapt and improve, pushing themselves and everything else outward with every release. After a few years absence, the band has returned again with their new album, once again aiming high as they can.
When you get your hopes up really high for new music from a band with a big-time rep, the results can be middling and sad. Fortunately, from the first note to the last, the Ethic of Radical Finitude (Metal Blade) is a triumph so big, you can hardly believe it. Life and death, hope and despair, madness and calm. All of these things are expressed in song. Opener ‘Seduced By’ is a slow simmer to the first full track’, ‘The Grotesque Illusion of Being’. As one piece, it becomes the perfect marriage of old-school bleak as fuck black metal and progressive post-rock. Outside of the modern post-Black Of the metal bands that have a distinct shoegaze compass, most classic era bands eschew this composing choice. Not this time. Cinematic in scope and making you feel all the feelings, this track is fierce.
‘We pursue the Serpent of Time’ is as philosophical as it sounds (as are all the tracks herein, couching a pensive reflective nature the band has. Beyond the intro with some tribal drumming and table-setting build up, another onslaught of true frost overtakes your ears. The drum parts almost sound like they are going to fall apart they are bordering on ramshackle, but they are tight at the same time. Perfect feel playing and proof that this music does its best work when it tries to not pretty it up or be too vanilla. The lengthy song goes through many shifts and changes. The middle section, complete with military drumming and keys will call to mind Pink Floyd’s The Wall for a brief moment before the chaos bites back again. The final minutes of the song return to cool down woeful piano strokes. Chilling. This is likely going to be fondly remembered as the highlight of the album.
Another expansive cut, ‘Guided Through a Starless Night’ starts with an enhanced calm of post-rock and shoegaze, with hints of Solstafir or Cult of Luna tones. This is followed by another bout of madness riffs and caustic drums. Then when the middle section arrives with a haunting, depressive spoken word piece, it will just crush your heart into nothing. Playing with atmospherics, dynamics, and even subtle swells and phrasing, these tracks are a masterclass in songcraft.
The vicious ‘As Our Bones Break to the Dance’ is a non-stop aural beatdown. With almost no pause, the track just rages for a little less than five minutes. Brutal, beautiful, and steely. Final track ‘Of Withering Violet Leaves’ calms things way back down again. Its droning mantra of strings sings right into your soul with foreboding half-tones and whispered promises, the rest of the track will deliver on. Slowly swelling to a peak, the track eventually builds to the thunderous wave of feeling, the beats and guitar lines just battering you. The ending coda has a brief chanting vocal and a return to the ghostly spoken word parts. It’s magical.
Downfall of Gaia continues to mature year over year, in the process becoming one of the greatest bands today. Ethic of Radical Finitude is in this writers’ opinion, the first must listen to album of 2019 and an early album of the year contender.
9 / 10