Dark Castle

Surrender to All Life Beyond Form

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Dark Castle's unassuming full-length debut, Spirited Migration, hardly presaged the incredible breadth of songwriting invention that this Florida-based duo -- consisting of vocalist/guitarist Stevie Floyd and drummer Rob Shaffer -- was capable of. First impressions suggested a roughly tendered mishmash of doom, sludge, and post-metal, which repeated, eye-opening listens duly revealed to be an astonishingly varied and well-conceived song cycle, whose massive metallic hooks probably hindered initial appreciation before paying off in spades. The same is true, to a lesser degree, of Dark Castle's distortion-drenched follow-up effort, Surrender to All Life Beyond Form, which arguably challenges listeners all the more by shrouding its songs in untold layers of crud and fuzz, making it that much harder for listeners to easily discern their merits (as well as for critics to justify them). That's because while standouts cuts like "Stare into Absence" and "Heavy Eyes" offer up nightmarish psychedelia as seen through a cracked kaleidoscope caked with Altamont mud, the stunning "Seeing Through Time" rides a groove as hypnotic as Tool toward a savage, unclean apocalypse that the refined prog metallers would never dare sink down to. Meanwhile, the title track and the suggestively flatulent "I Hear Wind" push the elliptical post-black metal envelope with alternately dull and thrilling results, yet suspiciously brief numbers such as "Create an Impulse" and "Spirit Ritual," and "To Hide Is to Die" and "Learning to Unlearn," take this deconstructive process a few steps further into ghostly minimalism and otherworldly monastic chants, then sodden industrial electronics, respectively. The album as a whole ultimately slots into the uneasy listening category, and unquestionably falls short of its predecessor's achievements, but not by much -- and at least no one can accuse Dark Castle of selling out. How their fans will respond to the challenge cast by the band remains to be seen.

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