‘Funereal-Flamenca-Nuclear-Jazz-Fusion-End-of-World Music’ doesn’t really feel like a genre and more a Mr. Bungle madlibs sessions gone horribly wrong (or right, depending on your tastes) but for Estrangement, it’s an invaluable peek at the mindset behind one of the year’s most unique releases.
Folk flourishes comfortably nestle within cathedrals of gothic doom, Gregorian chants invert themselves to become howling exercises in the obscene and the spirit of doom itself stretches its inky tendrils into every corner of the musical landscape. It’s a meticulous, beautiful and sometimes maddening listen, and the fact that it has been almost a decade in the making, marks it as a true labour of love.
One of the first impressions of Disfigurementality is that there is an obvious debt being paid here to My Dying Bride. The lengthy, progressive compositions and general air of misery are definitely in keeping with their gothic forefathers’ tortured aesthetic. Even the elegant neo-classical flourishes that pepper its roughly hour-long runtime feel like a kindred soul at work, yet Estrangement are constantly willing to stretch outside of those established boundaries.
Part of this is down to how they work within the gothic doom framework, with songs like Detritivore throwing so many curveballs that it’s impossible to see them coming. A shift into guttural death metal that ends as violently and abruptly as it starts is the most impactful moment within the largely elegant piece, but the other diversions – the shrill, rapid onslaught of flute, a genuinely haunting orchestral passage – all contribute to creating an atmosphere of tension, a push-and-pull between madness and genius.
It’s a meticulous, beautiful and sometimes maddening listen…
The other strength comes with the songs that don’t really fit anywhere. Fire Voice starts out as an austere, vaguely unsettling piece that uses throat singing to create an atmosphere of ritual dread, a summoning of the Great Old Ones in some dank, forgotten cavern but gradually more elements come into play. Tibetan singing bowls, strains of high medieval song, pastoral folk and neoclassical guitar freely flow and intermingle, taking the listener on a journey through time and space. Follow-up Clusters trades the scenic approach for one that concentrates on pure horror, where every note is stretched like a frayed nerve and drone, doom and dark ambient come together in pitch-black harmony.
Disfigurementality is composed almost entirely of these disparate elements but the logic and organic sense of direction throughout is unmistakeable. It’s deliberate in the best possible way, not weirdness for weirdness’ sake, rather a sense that is willing to delve into the corners of the soul and psyche that few dare to. The mind doesn’t make much sense so why should any attempt to explore it?
It’s a cleverly constructed album for sure but one that is equally faultless in its execution. JS is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist who shows great proficiency in everything he tries his hand at, while his vocals excel at every turn. Growls and screeches drip with pain and longing, and when he does venture into more sombre phrasings, it’s simply beautiful, with a delicacy and richness that feels miles away from the primal urgency he showcases elsewhere. Similarly, the string section pulls some serious weight, adding texture and depth throughout and steering the music through its most impactful passages.
Bizarrely, Estrangement have created an album so eclectic that is difficult to not recommend. A record this strange would normally be side-lined as an ‘acquired taste’, but there is so much virtuosity and meticulous charm that anyone who might conceivably enjoy one of its components, could appreciate the whole journey. Doom aficionados will appreciate the commitment to atmosphere, jazz fans could get behind the intricacy and flow, and for those who just appreciate music that is dark and weird, every minute of this is a rare treat.
Scribed by: Dave Bowes