Desultory - _Counting Our Scars_
(Pulverised Records, 2010)
by: Mark Dolson (9.5 out of 10)
When I found out that Desultory was getting back together after almost 14 years of silence, I was pretty excited. I remember vividly taking a chance buying _Into Eternity_ on cassette way back at the end of February 1993. After listening to said album over and over again throughout the course of a few months, my final diagnosis was that Desultory was super unique (definitely up there with At the Gates), yet sadly underrated -- well, in Canada at least. Although the band recorded _Into Eternity_ at the legendary Sunlight Studios with Thomas Skogsberg, their sound was unlike Dismember, Entombed, Cemetary or Grave. Instead of utilising heavy, crunchy guitars, low guttural vocals, and setting the pace with a plodding, chugging stomp, Desultory opted for a faster, less heavy, and more depressive approach. Klas Morberg's vocals were more of a strained, raspy shout compared to your typical low-level growl that was conventional at the time.

In terms of specifics, there were a few other things that made _Into Eternity_ stand out to me, not the least of which was the fact that the bass guitar was really loud and audible in the mix; this made for a really different sound compared to, say, Entombed or Grave, where the bass was quietly set in the background of most of their songs. The drumming, too, was amazing and tight as hell. Thomas Johnson added an extra level of technicality to Desultory's songs; something that was lacking in most of the Swedish bands in the early 1990s. Lastly, Stefan Pöge's lead guitar style was unmistakable: I can't quite put my finger on it, but there was something depressively haunting about his leads -- they were the kind that would just get stuck in your head for days.

When 1994 rolled around, Desultory released perhaps their most well-known album, _Bitterness_. I remember I didn't actually buy this right when it came out, but I borrowed it from a friend. Admittedly, I didn't like _Bitterness_ at first, as the band had started experimenting with a few slower, groovier songs; however, alongside this newer direction, you could still hear Desultory's trademark depressive sound. Another thing that I didn't like at the time was the production: it sounded a bit muffled and muddy (especially the drums), even though it was another Sunlight Studios production by Thomas Skogsberg. Incidentally, I ended up buying _Bitterness_ a few years later (1998 to be exact), and it grew on me tremendously. In fact, I would rank _Bitterness_ as one of my top 10 favourite albums of all time.

Two years after the release of _Bitterness_, the band released the infamous _Swallow the Snake_. I wont' say much about this album, because it's definitely not my thing. After Stefan Pöge left the band following the release of _Bitterness_, the rest of the band members decided to effect a drastic change in their musical approach. Turning their backs on their death metal roots, and embracing groove metal -- kind of like what happened to Lake of Tears -- it seemed that Desultory had changed into a different kind of band entirely. As soon as I heard the tambourines on the first song, "Mushroom Smile", I knew this band wandered off on a path that I wasn't very interested in following. The only redeeming aspect of this album was found in the last two songs: "Nothing Dies" and "Silent Suffering" -- both of which retain a slight injection of depressive atmosphere. And, admittedly, I still listen to them on occasion.

O.K., O.K., enough with this long windedness -- what about the new album, _Counting Our Scars_? Well, I am really pleased to say that 14 years after the lacklustre _Swallow the Snake_, Desultory are back in full force, playing a version of Swedish death metal situated somewhere between their _Into Eternity_ and _Bitterness_ albums. Before I describe what you'll find on _Counting Our Scars_, I have to say that Stefan Pöge, sadly, didn't rejoin the band; however, their former bass player, Håkan Morberg, switched to lead guitar (the band recruited Jojje Bholin from Unanimated as their bass player), and has a remarkable ability to mimic Pöge's distinctive lead style (listen to the first song, "In a Cage", to see what I'm talking about -- it's amazing, actually).

So, what exactly does _Counting Our Scars_ have in store for us? As I said before, this album sees the mighty Desultory going back to playing death metal the original Swedish way (I'm actually getting sick of using the term "old-school"). There are no keyboards, no acoustic guitars, and no frills. The vocals are harsh, strained and gruff, just as they used to be; the guitars maintain that typical Swedish heaviness without being too heavy; the bass is audible in the mix; and the drumming is back on track with Johnson's fantastic style, featuring the same level of technicality, precision and power displayed way back on _Into Eternity_ (recorded a little more than 18 years ago). In terms of the recording and production (done at the Necromorbus Studio), all instruments and the vocals are crystal clear, yet not in an overly-synthetic and overly-produced way.

Now, despite the fact that Desultory have embraced death metal again, it's not to say that they haven't done so without adding a few changes here and there. While there are some really fast songs on this album (heck, Johnson even blasts here and there throughout the album), there are some slower, almost contemplative songs sans any trace of the groove the band started to experiment with on _Bitterness_. The faster songs feature a bit of semi-melodic tremolo-picking -- something that really surprised me (see "Dead Ends" or "A Crippling Heritage"). Actually, there are some songs which remind me a little of Gates of Ishtar from the _Blood Red Path_ and _Dawn of Flames_ era, oddly enough. Regardless of this slight change in style, though, each song is infused with that typical Desultory depressive atmosphere. Even dudes from Desultory's generation (myself included) can still wallow in self-indulgent and depressive moods every now and then!

Well, in terms of comebacks, this is just about as good as it gets. The ideas are fresh, the musicianship is incredibly tight, and the feeling this band instills in the listener is as hopeless and depressive as it was way back in '93 and '94. When I heard the few bits and pieces of news that came through the pipeline about Desultory reuniting, I was a bit apprehensive at first, only inasmuch as I thought they might pick up where they left off with _Swallow the Snake_; but as soon as I heard the track "In a Cage", I knew I wouldn't be disappointed -- this song in particular sounds like it could have been written during the _Bitterness_ days. Guaranteed, _Counting Our Scars_ will appeal to old and new fans alike. If you want to support this rejuvenated scene, then by all means go to the Pulverised Records website and order this album right away.


(article published 22/12/2010)

8/12/1996 A Bromley 7 Desultory - Swallow The Snake
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