Metal, Post-Black Metal

Downfall of Gaia – Ethic of Radical Finitude (Review)

Band: Downfall of Gaia
Album: Ethic of Radical Finitude
Genre: Post-Black Metal
Country: Germany – USA
Release date: 8th of February 2019
Released via Metal Blade Records
Cover artwork © Metal Blade Records 2019

A right understanding that death is nothing to us
makes the mortality of life enjoyable.

Epicurus – letter to meneuce

In ancient Greece, philosopher Epicurus [341 – 270 BC] dealt with the question about what happiness actually is. In one of his most famous writings, the Letter to Meneuce, he stated that one major aspect to experience happiness is the mortality, the finitude of life. Later on, it was Heidegger who highlighted the fact that, in order to academically discuss ethics, the finitude of Being has to be taken into consideration. People are mislead by the idea of an infinite life. However – as long as we follow this idea, we will never be able to effectively find a solution about ethics for us as human beings. Thus, the eventual existential decision we need to render in morally questionable situations can never be fully tackled when assuming that the ethical set we derive our decisions from neglects the finitude of life. The necessity of accepting this fact as one crucial aspect of our life is also what explains the title of the latest release by Post-Black Metal pioneers Downfall of Gaia. Within the span of one entire album, the combination of members from Berlin, Hamburg and New York City sonically analzye this crucial question.

Downfall of Gaia is an international quartet from Germany and the USA that was deeply rooted in the sound of D-beat and Crust Punk when they began playing music in 2008. Their first album Epos was released in 2009 via several independent labels, which was still characterized by Crust Punk influences mixed with Black Metal elements. Steven said that what was most striking to him about Downfall of Gaia was the fact that this was the first Post-Black Metal band he got to know that stripped off the sometimes difficult ideology of Black Metal and began playing with that sound on their own. Of course – there had been several other bands that had done this before, but both of us got to know this possibility of playing with Black Metal via Downfall of Gaia. Hence, the band also had a major influence on the progression of our musical taste.

The album Ethic of Radical Finitude was released on the 8th of February, 2019 and marked their fifth studio album. On its predecessors Aeons Unveil the Thrones of Decay from 2014 and Atrophy from 2016, the band began playing with more direct and obvious Black Metal elements – especially when regarding vocals, drums and production. However, between these two albums – both of which still very strong – it seemed as if the sound was stagnating to a certain extent. Personally, I fell in love with both of those records, but objectively, the sound could be transferred from one to another. With their latest release, Ethic of Radical Finitude, the band eventually ceased the initiative and lunged out of their former sound.

When listening to this monolith of an album for the first time, the listener is primarily striked by the well-written contrasts that build the foundation of its dynamics. Beginning with the intro track “Seduced by…“, we already feel that we are about to witness a sonical journey. Afterwards, on tracks such as “The Grotesque Illusion of Being” and “We Persue the Serpent of Time,” Downfall of Gaia consistently switch between furious Black Metal riffs and downtempo sections played with clean guitars, sometimes even sounding a little gazey. Especially Michael Kadnar shines on the drums when easily jumping between several changes in speed. It almost feels as if the band takes their work to a halt at some points in order to allow the listener to contemplate on what he or she has just experienced. Throughout those slow and clean phases, we actually get our time to begin enjoying the beauty of the storm that just sonically shook our world. And this is also one element that distinguishes Ethic of Radical Finitude from its predecessors. The transitions between these different sections – that are also present on the former releases – are so awfully smooth that we get the impression of one interconnected, coherent composition.

The instrumentation on this album added several new sounds to what we know from Downfall of Gaia. The first and most obvious element we can hear is the piano (which could also be heard on Atrophy) at the end of “We Pursue the Serpent of Time”. After having been overwhelmed by this 9-minute journey, the track finishes off with a slow piano part. Without listening to this track, it is difficult to even try to convey the impact this eventual break has on the audience. The entire track easily plays with the emotions of you as a listener and when it eventually takes a halt and lets you glance back at what you heard with that piano underlining – it almost feels sublime. The clean vocals that can also be spotted on this album clearly add up to the sections of contemplation. All in all, the instrumentation slightly transcends what we know from Downfall of Gaia – but everything fits in with the sound of the entire album.

It is difficult to discuss the strucure or impact singular tracks have on this album, since it only functions in its entirety. However, several elements are striking about the tracks. Especially the opening track after the decent intro “The Grotesque Illusion of Being” already serves as a framework for all the elements that are about to come on this 40-minutes journey. We already get acquainted with the interplay between thrashing, thunderous Black Metal riffs and warm, gazey acoustic sections. Apart from that, it can be highlighted that “As Our Bones Break to the Dance” is the only frontal Black Metal track that could possibly be detached from the rest of the album. Grading by its ferocity, this track could also serve as one climax apart from the several ones that can be heard throughout the different tracks. The sixth track “Of Withering Violet Leaves” eventually merges all the elements, initiating the end of our journey.

Having experienced this journey several times in order to be able to write this review, I have to admit that I totally fell in love with this record. Due to the dynamic progression between thunderous Black Metal and slow, welcoming sounds, the album sets you on a wonderful odyssey. This is not about listening to the album so many times that you know every song by heart – it is about willingly being ready to restart the journey of the entire album over and over again.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

9 / 10

What did you think about the album? Were you happy with the progression you could hear from Atrophy and Aeons to this album? Did you prefer the rawer vocals on the older album? Let us know in the comments!

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