Dragged Into Sunlight
05 November 2012
by Hugh Platt
Despite the secrecy surrounding the specific identities of Dragged Into Sunlight‘s membership, their anonymity at least focusses attention on the one aspect of the band it is easy to get a grasp of – their music. And my, Widowmaker is a pretty substantial thing for anyone to grasp. Widowmaker is just one song, or rather, it’s just one single, complex piece of music. Using the word “song” in this context feels wrong not only for the extended format that Dragged Into Sunlight have chosen to deploy their music, but also because it feels like its selling the ambition of Widowmaker short.
Okay, it’s a “song” that’s comes in three, fairly well-defined movements, but even taking that loose framework into account, Dragged Into Sunlight are making the point that they want you to listen to Widowmaker in one sitting. In itself, that kind of statement shapes your listening experience and your relationship with Widowmaker. This isn’t a record you can dip in and out of. It’s not a record you listen to when popping down the corner shop for a pint of milk and Twix bar.
Of course, this opens up the interesting question as to what the value of the “album” as a cultural object in in 2012. Albums exist as they do to the limitations of the format they were delivered in. A 12″ vinyl record can only hold so much music. Even the humble CD has a limited capacity (albeit a bit more than a sexy slab or vinyl), but the over-riding principle of a cultural, artistic artefact defined by the constraints of the format it’s delivered in remains. Now this isn’t an issue that’s exclusive to the world of music – painters can only work within whatever “canvas” they’re working, after all – but it is one which music can side-step with relatively little hassle. The necessity of a music release conforming within a certain length as defined by some physical medium is beyond obsolete. Yet the fact that this DIS album is exactly the kind of release that will attract vinyl-hoarders like a YouTube video comment box attracts the intellectually deformed is a good thing. Given that the one of the principle reactions after I had finished listening to this record was a physical one – I needed to tangibly ensure that this record was over, for my own sense of psychological well-being – to reduce it to a series of ones and zeroes within a computer file seems almost treasonous.
The first third of Widowmaker is purposefully distant. As much a product of the minimal instrumentation than of the music itself, the 14 minutes that make up the opening act of Widowmaker are quite frankly; the deliberately underpowering bassline gives an unsettling backdrop of sound for some simple guitars to provide a palpable sense of dread, which only gets more intense thanks to some clever piano emphasis, and more obviously, a violin that practically sobs like it’s mourning the death of its first-born. It’s a subtle masterclass in getting background atmospherics right – they come in so slowly you don’t even realise the effect they’re having on you until it’s too late, and by the time you’re away of the transition you’re already condemned, like a lobster unaware of the rising water temperature of the cooking pot until mere moments before it starts to boil inside its own shell. And that boiling point for the listener – the grim, sampled flourish of “Killing is killing whether done for duty, profit or fun – men murder themselves into this democracy” – the record doesn’t just suddenly step up a gear, it full-on erupts.
Widowmaker is less shrill than Dragged Into Sunlight’s previous effort, 2009’s Hatred For Mankind, but the thicker, doomier style of riffs allows for a an even harsher pace change. Much of the next ten minutes is taken up with choppy, thick-set guitars that are as more akin to Louisiana sludgecore than anything we’ve previously heard from the publicity-shy four-piece. After that it changes pace yet again, relying on a more Neurosis-esque intensity, taking the musical motif that been running under the whole record – yes, from as far back as that ghostly intro – and applying it to wave after wave of driving riffs.
It’s only a brief respite though, with the final third of the record being a claustrophic mix of extended near-drone experiences and a return to the spacious, softer sounds of despair that the opening minutes relied upon. But unlike the misty despair of the record’s beginning, this latter period has more in common with John Murphy’s cinematic scores than anything you’d expect to find on a blackened doom album. The album’s final moments, where it switches from disharmonious guitars to a final, fiery bombast, keep you off-balance until the final, bitter chords have wailed out into silence. It’s at this point you get up out of your chair, take off your shirt and try to wring out the sweat from it in the manner that Widowmaker wrung it out of you in the first place.
I wasn’t sure whether to fling this record across the room in anger, or lock it up in a box out of fear, or what. All I knew is that I had to do something. I couldn’t leave it in the stereo becuase if I accidentally started playing it again, I would have to listen to it all the way through again, and Widowmaker isn’t the kind of album one just casually dives back into. It left me baffled and affected in a way that an album hasn’t for a long, long time. Above and beyond anything else I’ve listened to this year, Widowmaker defines intensity in heavy music. It is unequivocally one of the highlights of this or any other year.
Sounds Like: Widowmaker is its own thing.
Standout Tracks: N/A.