Written by Ellis Heasley
Great Dismal Swamp – Virginia
Experimental doom metal from Virginia, USA
Releases May 14th via Trepanation Recordings
Before you hit play on Virginia by Great Dismal Swamp it’s probably good to know that the band describe it as a record “conjured from the isolation, misery and restlessness of modern existence.” No prizes for guessing then that this album is DARK. It’s also incredibly hard work, with the band pointing to the likes of The Body, Sunn O))), Godflesh and more for influence.
With the artists mentioned, it’s no great surprise that Great Dismal Swamp don’t give their listeners all that much to grab onto on Virginia. Most of the songs are quite long, including three which top 10 minutes each, and all eschew any kind of traditional structures. There also isn’t all that much in the way of standard instruments to be heard here, with the band instead opting primarily for slow moving soundscapes, textures and effects.
Virginia splutters into nasty noisy life with its opening track “Alpha Drone.” It’s abrasive from the very beginning, with swelling noise and the sound of footsteps backing sadistically harsh vocals. After this, second track “Ritual For Cleansing The Forsaken And The Mire They Inhabit” features some more obvious percussive elements. This includes a drum machine, which gives the piece a real mechanical feel. It’s also just as suffocating as its predecessor, with some kind of moaned vocal ‘melody’ (used very generously here) trying desperately to strain through the sheer mire that surrounds it.
The album hits something of a high-point – another term used generously – around its third and fourth tracks. The first of these, “I Saw The Future”, features abrasive spoken vocals over more discernible guitar (or synth?) lines. It’s ominous as anything, and has an almost ritualistic feel to it. “The Earth Is An Animal” after that returns us to more menacing and abstract noise. This time it backs a devastating spoken poem of sorts in which Great Dismal Swamp’s vocalist appears to lament the violent impact of humankind on planet earth. Over the course of its lengthy runtime we are described as “tar in its lungs”, “tapeworms in its guts”, “cancer in its bones”, and more. It’s nasty stuff for sure, and paints a picture well-matched to the utterly asphyxiating music which accompanies it.
As well as being a seriously tough listen, Virginia isn’t exactly a short record either. The album clocks in at a full 53 minutes and 43 seconds, and with absolutely no quarter given to listeners looking for room to breathe, it definitely becomes quite the slog. The latter half is just as dark and torturous as its first. Fifth track “Lucifer, Son Of The Mourning” features more unnerving strained vocals, and doesn’t feel too far removed from the kind of interlude you might hear on a Neurosis record. “To Drown, To Sink” is another shorter one, with a simple resounding bell struggling to be heard over harsh industrial noise. “The Cityscape In Which My Nightmares Dwell” is longer again, and features spoken vocals over quiet textures which are abruptly interrupted by more hard-hitting drums around the halfway mark. All this is brought to a close with “Finally, The Machine Dies” – a track whose title basically sums up exactly how it sounds.
Overall, Virginia is an impressive record, but it is so hard to actually recommend it. It’s unsettling to the point of disturbing, and while there’ll definitely be some people who enjoy subjecting themselves to this amount of discomfort, many more will find this entirely impenetrable. Give it a go if you dare, but be prepared for some immensely grim listening.