Divide and Dissolve’s Vision of Sound

tom morgan
Divide and Dissolve interview

Knowing too much about a band or musician can be an obstruction. It strips away mystery, compounds layers of expectation and contextual clutter. In our information-saturated age, musicians are expected to provide front-facing content on a never-ending loop. It can feel tiresome. Mystery is fun, and sometimes necessary.

Divide and Dissolve possess just the right amount of inscrutable allure. The experimental metal band are officially based in Melbourne, Australia, but guitarist and saxophonist Takiaya Reed currently resides in Berlin, Germany. They’re a two-piece, however drummer Sylvie Nehill isn’t performing live or conducting press for new album Systemic. Their music is similarly enigmatic, full of dense, opaque textures and haunting atmospherics.

Talking to me via Zoom from Berlin, Takiaya’s tone is gentle and welcoming. Shards of light pierce the camera from a high window behind her, adding an aura to her digitized form. She talks in an effortlessly poetic manner. I ask about life in Berlin and she simply says: “there’s different things that drew me here, but in the summer the sun goes down at eleven and rises at 3 a.m.”

“This music is an acknowledgment and appreciation of my ancestors. There’s so much I hope people can understand through our music.”

Takiaya’s one of those people that you would know are smiling even if you couldn’t see their face. Her manner of speech is so tranquil it’s almost disarming. It stands in stark contrast to her band’s music, which is intentionally confrontational, both musically and thematically. Their instrumental metal is droning and chest-rattling, almost-shamanistic in its free-form channeling of cathartic darkness.

Systemic is Divide and Dissolve’s fourth full-length, produced by Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Ruban Neilson in collaboration with Nicholas Wilbur at The Unknown— a studio built in a converted church in Anacortes, Washington. Reed refers to their work together, with typical poetry, as “a vision of sound.” She talks with deep gratitude of “how cool it was” to hear “the music [I] felt in my heart.”

Though that music is weighty and metal-adjacent, Takaiya claims that she “doesn’t listen to metal or heavy music at all.” When asked if there are any metal bands who tap into something similar to her band, she says, “I can tell you about some friends who make heavy music, Big|Brave for example—they’re wonderful and have great energy, but I don’t listen to any metal.”

Considering that, if Divide and Dissolve were to be (somewhat) lazily boxed in an established genre it would probably be doom metal, Takiaya’s comments sound deliberately provocative. Across their four albums, the band’s musical approach shares doom metal’s hallowed tone, as well its slow, trudging tempos.

However, once you dig a little deeper into Divide and Dissolve’s distinct aesthetic language, the genre tags start to dissipate and Takiaya’s comments become more clear. In a press release, Takiaya describes Systemic as a “direct opposition” to the colonial project. Takiaya is black and Cherokee and Sylvie is Māori, which has informed their intense opposition to systemic racism and colonialism.

Their music is an organic release of anger, a hallowed requiem for the unspeakable cruelty that colonial powers have reaped on indigenous people throughout history. It’s an excavation of buried horrors. Arising through Divide and Dissolve’s incantatory music, it offers an iconoclastic affront to the power structures that continue to uphold these values.

“It’s an assertion of the importance of non-verbal communication,” Takiaya explains, when asked about her intense and wordless approach to music. To illustrate the latter point, there are nine tracks on Systemic and only one (“Kingdom Of Fear”) features spoken words, in the shape of a poem by Minori Sanchiz-Fung. “We can reach similar understandings without words,” Takiaya continues. “It happens all the time in our day to day life, so it should be possible in music too.”

The first thought that comes to my mind, upon hearing Takiaya invoke this concept of non-verbal communication, is the Aboriginal concept of “songlines.” The nomadic Aboriginal people sang and chanted constantly-evolving melodies to guide themselves across their vast landscape. There were thousands of songs and routes, informed by ancestral knowledge and understandable by all different tribes.

Is this the sort of wisdom Divide and Dissolve are trying to tap into? “I hope so,” Takiaya laughs. “This music is an acknowledgment and appreciation of my ancestors. There’s so much I hope people can understand through our music.”

Beyond indigenous wisdom, Takakia cites writers such as James Baldwin and Octavia Butler as significant influences on Systemic’s creation. “When preparing to write music, I don’t listen to music, I read books,” she says. “I find it such a precious gift that [those authors] existed in this reality. They changed so much for so many people and created a real sense of openness.”

Divide & Dissolve are creating a similar sense of openness. Their unique take on metal (though that’s perhaps a reductive term to use) is loose, fluid, angry, compassionate and evocative. It’s not designed to make you bang your head, it’s designed to carve open holes in space-time.

When I ask Takaiya about Systemic’s place in her band’s discography, she invokes a similarly-cosmic image: “Everything I create is a continuation. Time is non-linear and our experiences are all a continuation. This music is emblematic of that.”

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