The term “challenging” is thrown around capriciously regarding extreme metal, post-rock, free jazz and other genres that promote dissonance, chromaticism and general inaccessibility. But too often, those who take this challenge remain unrewarded for their efforts, left respecting the musicianship or conceptual idea but unable to take away any personal enjoyment (how many of you really throw on Coleman’s “Free Jazz” with any regularity?). To bring this relationship back to its symbiotic balance, Philadelphia’s Dysrhythmia have delivered their fourth album, Barriers and Passages, which may appear on first listen like an arbitrarily collected thirty-seven minutes of notes, but soon enough unmasks itself as a well-deserved and fruitful reward for the listener.
Dysrhythmia, to those unacquainted, is an eclectic, metal-meets-indie-meets-jazz band and this record is their most realized to date, owing significantly to the addition of bassist Colin Marston from insane-NYC-freakazoid-technical-metal thrashers Behold…The Arctopus. That and the fact that band leader Kevin Hufnagel has somehow managed to make his guitar fill up even more space. Seriously. It is jaw-dropping to see this dude perform live what you thought were two or three tracks of overdubs in one fell swoop. But despite their credentials, Dysrhythmia’s music is actually about restraint. These guys could whip out a brainless, heartless and tediously-wanky album bursting at the seams with full-on fretboard masturbation; but they wisely elect not to. Like true artists, they care only (and obsessively) about their work, and their skills aren’t the focal point but merely the means to achieve their goal.
Dysrhythmia’s past press coverage has consisted of half-witted and extreme juxtapositions that depict them as a Slayer meets Sonic Youth outfit. A more precise investigation finds them drawing from more obscure sources including acoustic and ambient artists Michael Hedges, Slowdive, and Seefeel all the way to heady metallers Atheist, Cynic and Death. Once the album is mulled over a half-dozen times, distinct melodic fragments and testosterone-laden rhythms become discernible and enjoyable. The album begins with the pastoral “Pulsar,” a perfect elucidation of the inherent beauty found in the guitar “harmonic.” Promptly obliterating the prettiness is the second track, “Appeared at First.” Start and stop riffing, impossible-if-not-mathematically-designed time signatures, and constant shifting in timbre and mood make for an indefinable and truly unique tune. Other standouts include “Seal / Breaker / Void,” an over-seven-and-a-half-minute epic that has the pulsating rhythms of more straightforward rock bands but with chords you’ve either never heard, or never heard put together in that order. Finally, the album’s centerpiece is “Will the Spirit Prevail?”, a powder keg of emotional catharses driven by the palpable sense of the band’s passion for their work. It perfectly sums up the other nine tracks in just over three minutes.
Don’t confuse Dysrhythmia’s brand of instrumental music as one without the ability to emote. On the contrary, Hufnagel’s intention with Dysrhythmia has been to convey complex human emotions without the limitations of language. The ability to pick up on these emotions without the use of words, as adverse as that is to our nature, results in a kind of primal bond with the music. In fact, the whole Dysrhythmia experience is a sort of educating process in itself – barriers, like it’s inaccessibility and unfamiliarity transform, after repeated listens, into passages to an antediluvian response that we all possess, but too rarely are given the chance to connect with.
Behold…the Arctopus – Nano-Nucleonic Cyborg Summoning
Flying Luttenbachers – Destroy All Music
Don Caballero – Don Caballero 2