Now You Know: Dirge

Wednesday, 16th April 2014

Formation: 1994
Location: Paris, France
Style: Apocalyptic, cinematic post-metal
Personnel: Marc T. (vocals, guitars programming); Alain B. (drums); Christophe D. (samples); Stephane L. (guitars)
Latest Release: Hyperion (Debemur Morti)

The first signs of visibility on these shores for France’s Dirge comes by way of their new album Hyperion. Although the band’s origins trace back to the rather fledgling mid-90’s French metal scene, the road taken by founding member Marc T. and his compatriots has been littered with subversive technology, sonic shifts, and the will to never compromise. Yet, the band remained an unknown quantity beyond mainland Europe, even if albums like 2007’s Wings of Lead Over Dormant Seas and its 2011 successor Elysian Magnetic Fields were persuasive, gripping entities, a fact learned after some YouTube sleuthing. But it all comes to a head now with Hyperion, a lush, striking effort that has the girth and atmospheric handle to run with any number of the post-metal big dogs.

“For us, each album has been a major step in our career, each time with different labels, different line¬ups and different production approaches,” starts  Mr. T.  (No, not that Mr. T.) “The number of years doesn’t matter, we still have the same passion for our music.”

“To me, being signed on Debemur Morti with this new album, which we’re very happy with, with this strong line¬up is not far from being the most perfect context for Dirge,” chimes in Stephane L. “So I don’t know if the band functions at its best today, but clearly, stars seem today in a pretty good alignment.”

The band’s early industrial metal beginnings were often stalled because of the one thing an industrial band needs to succeed: technology. And while the band was (and still is) enamored with the sounds of Einstürzende Neubauten, Laibach, The Young Gods, and Test Dep, replicating them was a challenge onto itself. “We were making music with quite nothing: An old Atari computer and an Akai s1000 sampler, that was all concerning the electronic part of our music,” says T. “It was not a piece of cake to produce decent records at this time, but everything was new in this industrial metal scene. And like every new thing, it was exciting to work with these fresh sounds.”

Dirge would eventually shed its industrial skin for new terrain, preferably atmospheric, high-in-scope leanings met with blunt, monolithic riffing. As such, Hyperion could be seen as the logical extension past its Elysian Magnetic Fields predecessor. “[I] think Hyperion carries something very atmospheric in itself, like it was the case on the previous one Elysian Magnetic Fields,” relays L. “Of course I don’t talk about ambient music, soundtrack or stuffs like that, but to me, there’s an overall atmospheric – sometimes ethereal, even – sensation running all along these last two albums, behind the guitars, in the background. We naturally started developing that aspect from our third album, And Shall the Sky Descend, and today, this component is a distinctive feature of Dirge’s sound.”

The underpinning thread of melody is one of the album’s finer aspects, shuttled through excellent cuts like “Circumpolaris” and “Venus Claws,” of which also contains some ethereal female vocals. According to L., the final result of the album stemmed from a natural progression from the demo stage, where the songs took on a much more noisy and rhythm-based form.

“We slowed down the tempos, stretched the tracks, put the guitars in front, turned our sound into a more hypnotic and psychedelic experience. But at one point, we felt like putting something new in our music and the melodic approach appeared then like a new field for creation. But you know, once again, things weren’t preconceived; Dirge had just to move forward on this new path, while keeping the monolithic and crushing characteristics.”

L. says getting Tara Vanflower of Lycia to handle vocals on “Venus Claws” was of immense importance. “I perfectly knew she would match with our sound, I was sure that the contrast between her ethereal voice and the massive guitars would give something awesome. And I’m more than happy by the result! We often asked external singers to put their voice on our music in order to add something – their identity- that brings the song at a higher level. With Hyperion, I think this goal has been fully reached.”

Add another goal reached for Dirge: The dreaded Neurosis comparisons should dissipate once the album makes the complete press rounds. Dirge certainly isn’t the first, nor will they be the last to have such a tag placed on them, but both T. and L. sound satisfied Dirge has been able to jump this hurdle.

“Some years ago, these comparisons with Neurosis used to piss us off,” says L. But honestly, we don’t care now. We were quite close to them 10 to 12 years ago, but today we are far from their universe and their music since we have furthered our own sound and identity. The comparison some people still make with them today has more to do with some musical laziness. The thing is we don’t listen to Neurosis that much today; we consider them as a big influence on our early works but they are now just a (great) band among many other (great) bands that we appreciate.”

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