Death Engine was formed in Lorient, France in 2012 and have been climbing the ranks of the European underground post-metal scene since their debut EP Amen was released the same year. The band describes this release as ‘a cold, nervous sound reminiscent of the best of noise-rock and early post-metal scenes, a clean-cut approach to songwriting’. 2015 saw the release of their first LP Mud and with 2018’s follow-up LP Place Noire, they officially had a stacked set of tracks to play at shows across western Europe; with performances at venues ranging anywhere from dive bars to Hellfest.
They’ve now been lurking in the shadows for years, adding layer upon layer of sludge while reconstructing their sound to something truly unique. Several line-up changes and vague mutations in sound, all forged around guitarist and vocalist Mikaël Le Diraison, have brought a welcomed return with 2023’s LP Ocean. With drumming, which is tracked and recorded by Joris Saïdani, and additional vocals by Jean Gerbier, this mysterious project has created something more ‘cold, spacey, and melodic’ than before to creep into the dark recesses of your soul.
Wasting no time Hyperion kicks the album off with an attack of wobbling, distorted chords. Wondering into these fuzzed out guitars makes a comforting, meditative headspace; until a sharp squeal against rolling drums snaps the mind back into reality. Each note caves to the battered, worn vocals which bend and manipulate the track to something sick with mental unrest. If you’re at all familiar, and fond of, post-metal you’ll notice a sense of flow that permeates even with the abrasive elements. It’s only the abrupt ending that crashes so sharply my breath finally is stolen away.
Guitar notes feel more rounded on Leaden Silence, standing in stark contrast against the angularity of the opening track. Riffs stretch out quickly making a vast soundscape that occasionally reveals faintly hummed chants and various guitar trickery. I can’t decide if these effects are more gorgeous or terrifying. Maybe it’s both? A second guitar comes in like a kick under the ribs as the vocals turn to a taunting chase, pursuing something lost within the ether.
A lone chord strummed repeatedly meets surging instrumentation on the sobering Pulled Down. Vocals, more breathless than before, are still saturated with a seething, visceral hatred. It’s here, I assume, Gerbier‘s singing makes its first appearance. A deeply sad picture is painted putting some uncomfortably morose moments. A slight lull comes near the end, like a reflective moment of clarity, only to be washed away by a slew of emotive crescendos giving a deep cathartic release.
Death Engine bleeds a dense and chaotically moving, blend of feedback and ferocity…
Pummeling drums form the beating heart of barn burner Lack. Wearing the sludge metal moniker like a badge of honor, Death Engine bleeds a dense and chaotically moving, blend of feedback and ferocity. This makes my thoughts flood with anxiety. The whole track races at a velocity where the imagination can easily see sparks fly off the metal guitar strings and sides of snare drums by how much pressure had to be applied with each strum and hit.
Slowing things down exponentially, Mess seeps a lost, listless, and broken beyond any intention of repair disposition. A lone spider-like guitar chord flutters until another plucked chord joins, making a double helix of notes that retain a post-metal in sound but, somehow, manage to have an industrial, almost Throbbing Gristle-esque, feel to them. These long instrumental passages provide a space where the contemplation of some of the regrets in life can reside. This really gives a heavy weight to the song’s title. Eventually, two new guitar tones come in, one clear, one muddy, and weave together until the sound eventually fades out.
Hollowed echoes and deep reverberations drench the core of Dying Alone. A moderately quiet and fuzzy start slowly builds in volume until a distorted guitar, shaking with vibrations, make way for somber, reflective singing that momentarily replaces the screaming. My attention since the album’s start can’t help but focus on Saïdani‘s drumming style. And it’s here I have to point out the similarities to what DJ Shadow used during the Endtroducing-era feel they have to them. It’s a marvelously, well executed, addition that would sound out of place with a less skillful drummer. The emotional pitfall from the lonely, but sympathy free lyrics clash against the deep rumblings that feel refreshingly honest and content with how life has been.
The skeletal chasms formed by the beginnings of finale Empire pull the mood down for the remainder of the track. An all-encompassing feeling of isolation that’s been building from the start is completely realized here, hindering any attempt the instruments make to soar. This theme, along with jagged tones, have been visited a lot in the previous songs but it’s here where negativity withers the soul and makes it clear the idea of companionship is sometimes nothing but a burden. Echo effects on the vocals simply hit different than before, giving Mikaël’s words a sense they’re dwelling deep into a cave as Oceans has been a forty-minute plea to abandon all humanity while showing no intent to re-join. A haunting ending, indeed.
Scribed by: Richard Murray