Despite a 14-year career and a regular release schedule of well-received, long-form heaviness, Dirge still fly largely under the radar of your average post metal fan, which is deeply unfair given the prowess and creativity of this band. With their seventh album, Lost Empyrean, these Frenchmen pull out all of their crushing tonal muscle, nestling it amongst a deep and widescreen atmosphere and creating a weighty but forward-moving boulder of often beautiful metal.
Right out of the gate, ‘Wingless Multitudes’ locks into the propelling sludge of mid-career Isis, set against droning background textures. It doesn’t take long for mournful guitar melodies to drop in and modify the mood, an element lending a death-doom tinge that goes on to infect some tempo shifts and unexpectedly regular clean vocals. Novel, warbling synth sounds adorn the track (showing up again in the title track later) and call to mind the most recent explorations of genre-leaders Cult of Luna and The Ocean.
Swathes of typically heavy and reverb-drenched soundscapes are broken up by interludes into choppy and rhythmic riffing at regular intervals, like those on the brilliant ‘Hosea’, with the focus on mid-pace head-nodders keeping things reliably fresh throughout. Though the shortest track here is 6:34 and the majority lean much closer to the ten-minute mark, it is fair to say that compared to some of their earlier work, Lost Empyrean shows Dirge slightly compressing their sometimes challenging drawn-out format, and they benefit from this no end from this streamlining.
The harsh vocals on this album are undeniably powerful, and surprisingly varied. The singular, hypnotic and amazing ‘The Burden of Almost’ is a true showcase of the raw depth being channelled through vocal performance, sitting amongst a formidable tower of guitar sound, the whole thing coming across as reminiscent of likeminded British sound explorers Bast. The clean vocals are, on the whole, somewhat less impressive and are perhaps used too liberally, watering down some of the intensity of the music at times, though not enough to do any real damage to this unstoppable record.
Lost Empyrean is a bludgeoning slow-burn with a heart of evil melancholy, but a warm and huge production that ensures the impact connects with full force. There is a lot of material to get through here, but this is stirring stuff, imbued with some kind of primal, earthly rage which is being thrown out into the void. The climactic chug at the start closing track ‘Sarracenia’ slowly floats further and further away into the atmosphere as the track goes on, before cascading back down once more, leaving you at the end of the album buried in its overall weight. Though not a perfect release, Lost Empyrean serves as a reminder that Dirge should be seen as a force to be reckoned with. This is a band who nail all the key features of their sound, whilst adding their own individual flair to the template, and do it brilliantly.