I’m not a particularly big fan of album reviews. As a rule, I consider them a shortcut to thinking – if you need another person to tell you what a piece of art means, what is the purpose of art? It’s supposed to be personal. Having said that, every rule has exceptions.
SLOW‘s newest album ‘VI – Dantalion‘, to me, is one such exception. While the band’s music can certainly be enjoyed on a very surface/almost superficial level (it is incredibly well crafted, and an absolute pleasure any fan of truly heavy music will probably enjoy) – I think a better understanding of the themes and undertones of the album lend themselves to a greater appreciation of the art as a whole.
Furthermore, looking at these in conjunction with the artistic/thematic evolution of the band over the span of it’s existence lend a sense of wholeism – to really appreciate where the band are, you have to look at where they’ve been.
Band Name: SLOW (Silence Lives Out/Over Whirlpool)
Country of Origin: Belgium
Years Active: 2007-Present
Label: Code 666 Records (vinyl/digipack) / Aural Music (digital)
Metal Archives Entry: https://www.metal-archives.com/bands/Slow/3540375410
Members: Déhà (Instruments, Vocals), Lore (Lyrics, Concepts, Bass, Vocals (backing), Arrangements)
“I & II are, for me, the first “period” of the band (being instrumental and more drone-ish), III & IV are the second period, and starting from V, we have something else. I can’t stress enough the time spent to control my studio (hence production). It’s, I believe, a normal evolution.”
– Déhà, 2018
On reviewing the band’s discography, you might notice a 2 part thematic pattern – specifically, for the first album in a period/cycle they focus on elemental forces as a vehicle for the narrative. On the second, the band shifts to an esoteric/spiritual/mythological theme.
- With the first phase of the band, it went from the elemental force of a whirlpool (I – Silence Lives Out/Over Whirlpool) to the more heady unexplored realms of humanity (II – Deeper in the Space, Higher in the Ocean).
- In the next phase of the band, there was a focus on the elemental qualities of earth (III – Gaïa) which transitioned to a less abstract Greco-Roman conduit (IV – Mythologiæ)
- The current period of SLOW find the band returning to the elemental power of water (V – Oceans) before utilizing a descent into hell as allegory (VI – Dantalion)
Having established the pattern, it’s worth noting that this isn’t a linear progression – I would liken it more to a Fibonacci.
Like a whirlpool it expands outwards, but at no point does SLOW cross over and make the same album twice. Even when they re-released “IV – Mythologiæ” due to data loss, they completely remastered it and added a new song – honestly, the album feels a lot more complete.
I feel this is worth mentioning here, because ‘VI – Dantalion’ would not be the same album if Lore hadn’t revisited (and worked within) the mythological part of the SLOW thematic cycle.
Dantalion: Powerful Great Duke of Hell, 71st of 72 spirits of Solomon
“Music is both very personal and universal – I find it important to find the right balance in that. We both want to express our thoughts and emotions, we want to tell our story, but in a way that the listener is able to understand everything and project these feelings onto himself. Making an awesome album has become almost easy nowadays, but making an album that truly touches people with its story and lingers in the mind is a far greater challenge.”
– Lore, 2018
Before moving into the review of the album itself I think it’s important to ask the question, “Why did they choose Dantalion?”
At first glance, it seems rather obvious. The tracklist itself shows a journey of the soul after death.
- Descente (descent)
- Lueur (glow)
- Géhenne (Hell)
- Futilité (futility)
- Lacune (gap/void)
- Incendiaire (incendiary)
- Elégie (elegy/lament for the dead)
Given that the soul is descending into the pits of hell, it seems rather natural. But that’s a very specific demon, out of a possible 72. Not the most well known for sure, but he does posses specific qualities that are unique:
Per Wikipedia: “The Seventy-first Spirit is Dantalion. He is a Duke Great and Mighty, appearing in the Form of a Man with many Countenances, all Men’s and Women’s Faces; and he hath a Book in his right hand. His Office is to teach all Arts and Sciences unto any; and to declare the Secret Counsel of any one; for he knoweth the Thoughts of all Men and Women, and can change them at his Will. He can cause Love, and show the Similitude of any person, and show the same by a Vision, let them be in what part of the World they Will.”
Dantalion, specifically, is a demon whose realm is arts and sciences, thought, and emotion. He knows the thoughts and emotions of humans, and can change them at will. Given the fact that Lore has significant creative control over concepts on this album, and taken in conjunction with the aforementioned quote (taken from my 2018 interview with the band) I can’t help but marvel at the fact that she found a demon who embodies the creative goals of the band – to tell our story, but in a way that the listener is able to understand everything and project these feelings onto himself.
In that sense the choice seems a lot more natural than, say, Belial or Ashtaroth – I believe this context can assist the listener in consuming the album more with depth and clarity.
So, like I mentioned earlier, the titles of the tracks give the listener a pretty good idea where the narrative of the album is going. Beginning post-mortem, the first track transports the listener to a descent (descente) to Hell. Notably, the track is a departure from the norm for SLOW, clocking in at 4 minutes and 43 seconds. Fans of the band’s prior albums will notice they’ve tuned a bit lower for ‘VI – Dantalion’, an aesthetic choice which lends itself well to creating an aural hellscape.
At first, I thought the second track glow (Lueur) might be a reference to a “glimmer of hope” as the soul descends. But after listening to the opening notes, the exact opposite seems to be the case. This is pure sonic despair, SLOW is transporting us to hell and we’re seeing the fiery glow. The dark/light sound dichotomy is certainly still there (something I think the band does very well), with the melodic/light parts highlighting and complimenting the low end/darkness. In particular, the orchestral synth lends grandiosity and a certain gravitas.
Next up, the band’s (very appropriate) first single – ‘Géhenne’ (Hell). Another shorter track (just over 7 minutes), Lore’s bass is front and center here. Also worth mentioning: Déhà’s vocals for the entire album are a bit more raw. I’m not sure if that’s a result of mixing, or if he intentionally decided to channel bands like Wormphlegm – but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. It’s fucking awesome.
After arrival in hell, naturally the protagonist recognizes the inherent futility (Futilité) of hope. This is where real despair sets in – and sonically it’s a real turning point in the album. This track is more in the vein of artists like Shape of Despair – without sacrificing that crushing, brutal heaviness that permeates ‘VI – Dantalion.’
Recognition of futility and abandonment of hope lead to a total surrender to the void (Lacune). This track in particular deviates from ‘traditional’ funeral doom territory, and in my opinion displays a lot of the musical growth of the band when compared to the rest of their discography. The track is a lot more dynamic, and why shouldn’t it be? Utter surrender to the void, abandonment of hope – the inherent nothingness of it all. The sparse piano notes opening the piece, Lore’s background vocals, etc all add up to make this one of my favorite tracks on the album.
Incendiaire (incendiary) is slightly more familiar territory for the band. A bit faster maybe (with some pretty well placed 16th notes throughout), but it’s one I’d recommend to fans of ‘V – Oceans” or ‘IV – Mythologiæ’ right off the bat if they didn’t have time to listen to the entire album in one sitting.
Which brings us to Elégie (elegy) – obviously a lament for the dead. You’ll find no spoilers for this track here, suffice to say it’s both an appropriate title and ending to this monolith of an album.
Hands down, this is the heaviest SLOW album to date. Like I mentioned before, they tuned lower. The vocals are grittier. The concepts and lyrics are par for course, which is really quite something – the bar has been set high from the get-go. The use of melody and ambiance contrasts the near suffocating brutality of the low end – creating a fantastic dichotomy.
As with all SLOW albums, this is a piece I would listen to in it’s entirety, the album is just a work of art. Speaking of art – even the fucking vinyl is artisinal.
You can pick these bad boys up either off the SLOW bandcamp or from the Aural Music webstore. It’s also available in digital and CD format, and there’s a phenomenal t-shirt design from View from the Coffin.