Downfall of Gaia aren’t an easy band to summarize within one sound or style, one approach or ethos. Hell, they’re not even from one specific place, the band’s members split between Berlin and New York City. In their earliest incarnation, Downfall of Gaia rose up from DIY hardcore roots, showcasing d-beat and crust punk influences from the likes of Discharge and Amebix, and issuing early releases via the Berlin-based anarchopunk label Alerta Antifascista. To hear them now, however, one might just as easily find their roots and vintage recordings somewhat surprising. They’ve expanded and opened up their sound over the past decade, embracing more space and beauty, bolstered by pummeling black metal blast beats. They’re a very different band now, but the rawness and intensity at the heart of their music remains.
Ethic of Radical Finitude is the farthest point to date on an ongoing progression into more measured and elegantly layered black metal. To be sure, it’s been a gradual progression, with 2012’s Suffocating in the Swarm of Cranes being the most significant shift away from their hardcore beginnings. Since then, their aesthetic’s been pretty well defined: atmospheric instrumental passages, searingly harsh highs, album art in shades of gray. Finitude doesn’t find Gaia abandoning any of that approach, merely refining it. What they’ve created is frequently haunting, occasionally blistering, and often quite moving, regardless of how intelligible Dominik Goncalves dos Reis’ screams.
With an album like Ethic of Radical Finitude, Downfall of Gaia make a more legitimate claim for being an “extreme metal” band than rote grindcore or ultra-Satanic black metal by virtue of actually balancing more than one extreme. The band pulls off roaring aggression well—the explosive blast of “The Grotesque Illusion of Being” showcases how naturally they tackle a relentless black metal assault, as does the relatively brief “As Our Bones Break to the Dance.” Yet when Downfall of Gaia juxtapose raw, seething emotion with patient beauty and graceful instrumentals, they’re offering something much more than straightforward black metal. Those two extremes counter each other elegantly, revealing a versatility and imagination well beyond the confines of black metal stereotypes; “Of Withering Violet Leaves,” for instance, evokes the rich gothic details of The Cure’s Disintegration, which is an influence more black metal bands could stand to seek out.
Ethic of Radical Finitude is a great sounding record, but it’s also one that offers a thoughtfulness and grace that’s more apparent on closer listen. In fact, the song titles themselves, when read sequentially, create a poem meditating on the nature of life and death, as do the lyrics on the album. This is a metal album for catharsis, but it’s also one made for closer listening and careful meditation, further adding to the qualities that make Downfall of Gaia so hard to pin down but likewise so vital.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.