Band – Discarnatus

AlbumCondemned to Darkness

Genre – Blackened Death Metal

Release Date – January 19, 2019

Label – Independent

Author – JGilbert

There’s something almost intangible that draws me to underground bands. The lack of formal education or professional opinions produces art which feels somehow more “genuine” to me, even if it comes at the cost of a consistently “good” product. For the most part, I appreciate the hard work and passion that goes into these various basement, bedroom, and garage bands more than anything else about them; and to be honest with my tiny reader base here: most of them don’t really stand out from each other. But sometimes you find the one… In addition to my aforementioned appreciation for the passion these artist pour into their music, a big appeal of digging through Bandcamp for me is the thrill of finding that “diamond in the rough.”

Discarnatus of Grand Rapids, Michigan, make swamp-ass blackened crust that brings to mind some of my favorite elements of early black metal and modern grind. Their third release, Condemned to Darkness is full of dark and twisty soundscapes that reveal a band willing to take risks and try unexpected things to complete their musical formula. As a music journalist, I have to admit that many of the individual ingredients in Discarnatus’ formula are not exactly “good” and the sum of their parts are not going to make any “Year-End” lists; but they occupy a space in my personal enjoyability graph that especially suits me: “Not good, but very enjoyable”. I’ve discussed briefly that I feel something can wear both labels at once, but I think that Discarnatus’s new release is a perfect opportunity to describe this concept at greater length; especially considering how applicable the idea is to the kinds of music we highlight here at Moshpit Nation.

I feel it is important to measure “good vs bad” as distinct from “enjoyable vs not” when it comes to the arts. In my mind, I visualise a “W” shaped graph with the “y” axis representing the “enjoyability” factor and the “x” axis representing how “good” it is. Before I lose you to an obtuse geometry analogy, allow me to explain a few examples. Let’s start with some things which score highly in both  “good” and “enjoyable” categories; like the first seven Opeth albums. Continuing along the graph, there’s music that’s “good” but that I don’t find enjoyable; like Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan. Enjoyability continues to taper off as the music gets less “good” until we observe a sandbar effect in the middle of the “W” shape. This is what my friends and I refer to as “aggressively mediocre” music; it’s too low-effort or derivative to be good, but it’s also too well-executed or packaged to be bad. Think: Migos and other guilty-pleasure pop acts; this sector is the mainstream’s bread-and-butter. After the mediocre bump, enjoyability returns to a downward trend as the music is no longer good enough to be “not bad” but lacks the certain je n’sais pas to make it more enjoyable than its station. Personally, I lump 5FDP, Nickelback, and most other radio-friendly bro rock here; but it’s just beyond this sector, when things get so bad that they start to get weird, that I’d like to focus on. For me, the enjoyability factor experiences a sudden upward turn right around Psychostick and Anal Cunt, where the suckage becomes a commentary. Or a joke. It’s certainly “the point” for these artists and I find the idea fascinating. To quote my critical forebears Beavis & Butthead in description of AxCx: “They suck, but they suck in new ways we haven’t heard before. So in a way it’s kinda cool!” I couldn’t agree more.

Discarnatus do not endeavor to be virtuoso performers. They do not dazzle with musical complexity or technical skill. Their release is not particularly well composed or arranged. It is, however, intensely vicious, savagely raw, and pretty weird. At 22-ish minutes, it’s also not too long, and that contributes to the enjoyability factor of a record as rough and bizarre as this one. The tracks themselves showcase some brilliant examples of low-fi howling vocals and fascinating instrumentation from the rest of the band, who transition from moments of blistering noise to plodding rhythms under awkward meandering solos that never allows its listener to get too comfortable or too serious. This artistic bravery; the willingness to boldly undertake strange musical journeys at the risk of sounding kinda goofy, is exactly the kind of push that takes Discarnatus  over the top and prevents it from being just a sloppy mess. Look for their third independent release Condemned to Darkness, out now on Bandcamp and limited-edition cassette.

Recommendation: Let this record inspire you to take risks and make mistakes. If you come across as a weirdo goofball, you can always just double-down on it all.