Archon, Ouroboros Collapsing: Void Crushes Magnificent

On the inside of the gatefold digi-sleeve that houses Ouroboros Collapsing, the second full-length from NYC-based doom outfit Archon, is inscribed the lines, “Psychic death brings us to our dismay/Inevitable to end this way/Void/Crushes/Magnificent.” These lyrics are the only ones Archon reveals from the album (released on The Path Less Traveled), and I’m comfortable saying they’re fairly emblematic of the band’s irrevocably bleak musical perspective. The five-piece’s doom – doubly vocalized thanks to Rachel Brown and Chris Dialogue – is dark and extreme, touching on death-doom sonically with some of Dialogue’s growls and Brown’s screams and cleaner singing, but not altogether separate either from a post-Electric Wizard stoneralia, given to periods of swirl as in the solo section of “Desert Throne,” the shortest track on Ouroboros Collapsing at a paltry nine minutes. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve known Archon guitarist/bassist and founder Andrew Jude for the better part of a decade, have contributed to projects in which he’s also been involved and have watched as he’s solidified Archon’s lineup over the last several years (please note that if I didn’t feel comfortable reviewing it, I wouldn’t), the somewhat nebulous incarnation of the band that brought forth the debut LP, The Ruins at Dusk (review here) having now solidified around him, Brown, Dialogue, guitarist Nikhil Kamineni and drummer Rajah Marcelo. It’s worth noting that the last three – and so 60 percent of Archon’s current lineup – can also be found in the band Alkahest, whose post-sludge bears only a passing resemblance in its extremity to the overarching tragic mood Archon present here. All but Kamineni appeared on the last album as well, among others, and while Ouroboros Collapsing having been recorded at multiple studios across Brooklyn may have led to some shifts in sound from one song to the next, each of the 47-minute outing’s four cuts is long enough to set up its own context, beginning with the 15:03 opener “Worthless” setting the tone of viscous chugging guitar and agonizing echoing spaces. It’s the longest track at just over 15 minutes (immediate points), and begins with low humming ambience from which the bass and guitar gradually emerge amid swirling echoes and a classic ‘90s death-doom drum thud from Marcelo, whose adaptability here proves an asset to the band overall. Past the 2:30 mark, the lumbering sway of the central riff and Brown’s multi-layered melodic vocal kick in, sounding something like Grayceon at their darkest and most massive, albeit rougher in the production and sans cello.

Archon have never been shy about riding a part out, and “Worthless” shows that while the personnel may have shifted, the band’s core affinity for repetition remains the same. When Brown switches to sub-blackened screams, she’s gradually joined by Dialogue, who contributes growls behind and eventually in competition with the verse riffs. With both vocalists going at once, the screams are bound to be a focal point of the song, and there’s a stretch as “Worthless” approaches its halfway point where it feels as though the part is being extended to make room for the lyrics, but an ensuing shift toward more open, atmospheric riffing – Dialogue’s far-back rasp backed by synth from Brown – provides some measure of relative relief from the (purposeful) monotony. The plod continues with Marcelo picking up the drums amid Kamineni’s more active movement toward its end, and though it’s not so much a build as a clear shift, the effect is largely the same. Synths build in prevalence in the doomed cacophony, Jude throws in a few choice bass fills, and a deconstruction plays out there, leaving an amp buzz to fade as the last remaining element before the guitar of “Desert Throne” answers the opener with more immediate riffing. Dialogue has the opening volley in terms of vocals over faster riffing, but it’s Brown’s delivery in the ensuing slower part and swirling bridge that proves more memorable, though the track doesn’t really make its presence felt until the second half, when it opens to what – were it not topped by wrenching growls and screams – might be a ‘90s-style NY gothic synth ambience. The guitar soon gives a solo over the formidable groove, but the mood is set for drama nonetheless. Where “Worthless” launched with a drone, “Desert Throne” caps with about 90 seconds of noise and crashing as the song falls apart back into the malevolent rumble from which the first half of the album emerged. Whatever  the particular recording circumstances were for each of these tracks, I don’t know (Jude, Kamineni and Danny Screams are credited with recording, while Jude mixed and David Johnson mastered), but from listening, third track “God’s Eye” (9:45) seems the most cohesive presentation of the various aspects of Archon’s musical personality, taking the push of “Desert Throne”  and oppression of “Worthless” and forming them into a substantive and individualized whole. Kamineni’s post-rock tonality seems more present and the insistent initial rhythm captures the listener’s attention so that the blackened progression that follows with Dialogue at the fore of the push is only more like to sweep one into its storm.

It’s basically the same thing “Desert Throne” did to start out, but better, with Brown coming right in clean over a part that, like some of “Worthless,” is drawn out to match the lyrics, but more suited to the dynamics between the two singers when Dialogue answers back with weighted growls that Brown soon joins. A discernible verse/chorus tradeoff leads to a second-half crashing slowdown, but by bringing the initial structure back in at the end, Archon take a classic rock/pop form of songwriting – intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, end – and distort it excellently to suit their own foreboding purposes. Aside from being the point of delivery for the title line (and, if I’m not mistaken, the lyrics printed on the inside of the gatefold), it’s the most evocative portion of Ouroboros Collapsing, giving way to the extended closer “Masks” and reversing the tracklist structure of the first two songs; going from shorter to longer as opposed to longer to shorter, as “Worthless” and “Desert Throne” did. “Masks” even starts with a slow mount of feedback and noise (Dialogue is no stranger to such abrasion), a far-back vocal from Brown entering with the excruciatingly slow heaviness after two minutes in and giving way to a dirge march as the growls come more to the front of the mix – the song almost walking toward its own realization. Anchoring the march and the noisy, droning stretch that follows is Marcelo, whose steady ride work ensures that wherever Archon goes with it, the song remains a song. The jump back into a verse at 7:44 is a little awkward, but what follows is the band’s best instrumental and vocal build of the record, moving past 10 minutes with a memorable hook in the guitar and more subdued melody from Brown which Dialogue meets with buried-under agonies. For an album that has made a point until now to give its parts adequate time to develop and proved so patient in introducing tracks with ambience, etc., it seems that “Masks” ends rather suddenly, but perhaps that’s Archon’s way of leaving their audience with a sense of either finality – that is, things end suddenly and that’s life – or of open-endedness – that is, things aren’t actually done. Either way, their point has been made. No question Archon are a stronger band for the more solid lineup, and while the second half of Ouroboros Collapsing satisfies with more complexity than the first, the grace with which the band approaches the sonically severe will no doubt turn some heads among those for whom “heavy” just isn’t heavy enough.

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