The Chasm - A Conscious Creation from the Isolated Domain - Phase I - (10/10)
Published on October 7, 2017
Formed in Mexico circa 1992 by spectral visionary Daniel Corchado, The Chasm is one of the few bands of the death metal genre who have not only kept its funereal spirit alive through times of boom and bust but progressively altered their sound across eight albums, two demos, and an EP without ever watering it down or losing sight of their strengths. Their place in the genre’s pantheon is near mythic among those aware and they hold a cult reputation world-wide. In their earlier days, they played what’s best described as a progressive take on the melodic style of death/doom but after 1998, this doom aspect was pulled back. More death metal as well as 80’s metal styles from speed, traditional heavy, and thrash became more apparent as well as even vaguely Voivod esque dissonance. However one thing that remained constant was their ear for epic songcraft; lengthy compositions broken up into multiple sections that built upon one another and communicated a sense of scope and dark grandeur not heard outside of material such as Timeghoul or Therion circa 1992’s Beyond Sanctorum. They achieved the apex of this idea in 2009 with Farseeing the Paranormal Abysm but after eight years, they have returned with a more compact and aggressive attack. More importantly, this is their first fully instrumental album, leaving the now two man operation of principal songwriter, guitarist, and bassist Daniel to focus fully on elaborate axe-work set to Antonio Leon’s creative drumming.
Initially I had some doubts about a fully instrumental album as Daniel Corchado’s higher pitched trebly growl and his mystical lyricism were always a part of The Chasm’s appeal but their removal has not weakened the band. They were always a riff focused band and now Daniel’s esoteric sense of harmony and wide arsenal of rhythms have simply taken centre stage, resulting in an album that encompasses many of their strengths while further exploring some of the more experimental territory touched on in prior albums. Those unfamiliar with The Chasm won’t necessarily be unfamiliar with their approach; many aspects of their sound are drawn from a mixture of 80’s heavy/power/speed/thrash as well as early 90’s death/black metal but rather than sounding like a pastiche of personal favourites, the end result is more of a tapestry of varying colours, forms, and shapes. Studiously picked lead melodies and arching moments of serpentine polyphony exist naturally alongside jarring dissonant riffs and jagged thrash riffing and that’s just scratching the surface. From a purely technical perspective, each song is a small ecosystem’s worth of interlacing themes and moving parts, the sort that sounds incredibly complex when you think about it but in execution moves together with a supernatural fluidity due to the interlocking and carefully regulated nature of its execution, valuing articulation over showmanship.
While they are arguably a progressive and melodic death metal band, The Chasm don’t really evoke what we would typically expect of both terms, at least in their modern sense. The stop start rhythms, noodling shred, jugga-widdle pedal riffs, and bouncy rhythms that came to define those subgenres are thankfully completely absent. Daniel’s approach to composition tends to focus on a single particular theme that is voiced in a variety of ways through variations in phrasing and playing and careful shifts at specific intervals that digress from a main theme to elucidate a composition with additional layers of harmony and tonal character. A central riff sets the mood and serves as a character that travels through dynamic contrasts in style and pacing, branching off in order to allow dramatic changes and gradual shifts further its internal storytelling. Each new section added explores a different facet of both this introductory riff and outlines a new part of the overarching narrative, resulting in a form of composition that while quite busy in its execution is also quite grounded and orderly in its approach.
Compared to death metal past and present, there’s notably little repetition. Rather than the cyclic re-combining approach of earlier death metal or the “every riff needs to be everywhere” approach of later bands, The Chasm’s sound is very deliberate, thoroughly composed in lengthy phrases and sub-divisions that are arranged one after another in what others would call “linear composition” though I prefer the term “narrative structuring” instead. While aggressive and hard hitting as one might expect for death metal, it never comes off as blisteringly fast or barbaric even during the few moments of blasting, preferring to carry a single theme from beginning to end. The sudden breakaway moments and sharp contrasts between tremolo and chunk riffing that you might expect in most death metal simply don’t appear here, opting instead for steady tempos almost more fitting of black metal bands along with their eye for lush melodic accompaniment. The layered riffing in a way tells its own story within their already intricate song layouts, travelling to more frequently than ever before to more dissonant domains yet avoiding the “dissodeath” style approach a la Gorguts/Ulcerate/Deathspell Omega/Immolation style of twitching, jerky riffing and fragmenting chord shapes. Yet even in the midst of that, they still have moments of blazing fretboard work that bring to mind the best of late 80’s power/speed/thrash like Helstar and Liege Lord but in a warped, supernatural context befitting of their reputation and aesthetic.
While the album is instrumental, the tracklisting on the back of the CD and musical themes are split up into four parts that tell a wordless tale of descent and rebirth through its hour long duration. Chapter one, Revisiting the Temple, is comprised of the first three tracks and is the most straightforward part of the album; a scourging assault on the ears lead by sharply directed counterpoint unleashing a precision coordinated barrage. As its name hints, it does appear to reference some of the bands more aggressive moments from 2001 onwards, evoking a sense of discovery and adventure found in the ruins of past and self. Crater (Abysm of Decomposed Dreams) shifts gears away from the burst of energy, demonstrating some of their more “atmospheric” specialties with winding tunnels of off-kilter tonality and unusually phrasings that evoke a sense of looming, ominous depths and hidden forces all but alien to the human mind lurking beneath. Yet it ends with a sense of storming, forceful conviction emerging from the ambiguous morass, transitioning into Mind Domain Substance Layer.
Aggression and ambivalence have given way to long and pensive passages of brooding upper register harmonies and distant, mournful leads that seem to call from behind a veil of murky riffing. By far the darkest part of the album, its abrupt ending almost sounds like the sudden last breath of this tumultuous journey deeper into the depths. However, Emergence of a New Notion/Obsessive Cognition rises out of that storm of eldritch horror as a powerful conclusion to this astral voyage. Tension and anticipation mounts and builds through climbing lead patterns gradually morphing into consonant forms. From this rises a sense of not just power and might but finality and comprehension, not just of the journey but of self and being. The lead guitar exchanges almost resemble a council of voices conversing and arguing over a new revelation and its meaning, whatever that may be ultimately left ambiguous as the final moments of the album speed off to a distant fading end.
In the end, the meaning behind A Conscious Creation from the Isolated Domain – Phase I is left quite open to interpretation, even to veteran fans of The Chasm. However one should not be concerned with the objective meaning as much as their own they find through this hour long epic and whatever it evokes within their own psyche. It is certainly not an easy album to follow; a mixture of the hydra-headed influences that comprise it and the complexity that comes natural to the band make it a towering, ominous listen. Yet for those who rather than try to deconstruct it let themselves be lost within the mazes of mystery and mysticism that define their latest album, they will certainly come closer to whatever truths it contains. This is certainly a death metal album but its aim is not to revel in carnage, decomposition, or damnation but hidden knowledge accessible by all but for many a deeper sense of comprehension will be difficult to find. Trends come and go with the ebb and flow of the underground and mainstream; The Chasm will always be among outsiders in spite of their reputation and reverence but Daniel Corchado’s endearing visions of what death metal could be and the boundary between human and mythos, the extraordinary and the intrapersonal, will remain a constant as their eight album has demonstrated. This masterpiece is highly recommended for fans of Zealotry, StarGazer, Unaussprechlichen Kulten, Garroted, Suffering Hour, Question (Mexico), Monomakh, Lantern and others who prefer death metal less as a festering tomb and more of a portal to the Gnostic and the sublime.