Dagtum is an experimental death metal trio hailing from the archipelagic country of the Philippines. The music of their recent album Revered Decadence is dark, dirty, and down-tuned and, for the most part, is an engrossing listen. The music is full of death metal sensibilities but brings in a wide variety of influences throughout the album. At times the music could be described as death-doom, at others sludge, and sometimes just straight-up death metal. The band also incorporates interesting breaks in style and introduces jazzy, experimental sections that give their music an unhinged, progressive quality. Some of the experimental sections remind me slightly of Atheist but not quite as well executed. Before going into too much detail I will say up top that I thoroughly enjoyed this release. Although there are elements of Revered Decadence that didn’t quite sit well with me, there is nothing in this album that would lead me to consider it in a negative light.
Instrumentally, each member seems suitably proficient at their instruments. The guitars regularly switch between crushing riffs to complex and interesting harmonies; the drums are blistering at times, and groovy during others with plentiful polyrhythms and fills. The vocals are guttural and disturbing though can feel a bit soft and distant. I like the tone of the lead vocals, but I do feel they could have slightly more presence. I’m not too sure if this is to do with the mix or the performance but it is something that I picked up on while listening. The backing vocals are a great layer and provide the music with an even creepier quality when heard. The bass is the least noticeable element of the sound, but unlike a lot of death metal, it is audible which allows it to hold the music together and adds depth to the frequency spectrum. There are moments the bass shines through. We hear the occasional walking bass line and at times the guitar might drop out and leave us with some peddling notes, but for the most part, it is textural.
On to the tracks. “Immaculate Decay”, the album’s opener, is an ambient introduction piece that serves as a moodsetter. It kicks off with swirling psychedelia, ominous and unsettling. Just before the one-minute mark, we hear a repetitive organ part that personally does not do it for me. Although it starts off sounding decent, it is heard so many times that it grew tiring on my ears. Later we hear a string/synth part that also does not sit quite right for me, and not in a way that adds to the unsettling nature. There is a bit too much repetition once the organ enters and I feel this track could have either had more variation or been a bit shorter, as I found myself skipping this track on subsequent listens. Although this may seem like a harsh start, this is probably one of my more prominent criticisms of this album so don’t take this initial impression and extrapolate it to the rest of the album.
Once we kick into “Avarice Enshrined” the music starts to shine. The riffs are brutally slow and chunky. The stabs on the guitar are dissonant and beautiful, cutting into me with each strike (and yes, I enjoy this because I am a masochist). The drums start with soft hi-hats and accents and slowly build into a four-to-the-floor kick filled with delightful triplet fills. As the vocals enter, the rhythm locks in, and the groovy drums and bluesy flourishes give the arrangement a fleeting sense of levity. At 1:35 the mood changes drastically and we hear a twisted, jazzy section that, as mentioned earlier, reminds me slightly of Atheist though slightly less refined. I am a big fan of progressive music and the idea behind this section is great; however, I do feel the execution is not quite there. The one most obvious culprit is the swing feeling on the drums. It feels a touch out of time and it does not seem to lock in as one would expect. This is something that I noticed with the drumming throughout the album; there are occasional timing issues that are generally not present, or perhaps noticeable, in the heavier sections, but become more obvious in the swung sections. This is not a huge criticism but something worth noting. I love the chords and guitar parts in this clean section and I also dig the way it culminates, returning to heavy riffs and intense drums. The music flits between clean guitar lines and overwhelming heaviness before closing off the piece with intense double bass and tremolo riffs. Despite my few criticisms, this track is still a fantastic listen and I must credit the band with their unique approach to songwriting and interesting progressive sections.
One small criticism I would also level at the record is that I personally feel the drums are mixed too dry. I realise that this fits the death metal aesthetic perfectly, however, with the amount of experimental, doomy, and progressive parts heard throughout the album, I feel a bit of reverb on the drums would be a fine addition. This could be personal preference, however.
Track three, “Ad Infinitum” seems to fly past much quicker than the previous track and this I would mostly attribute to the more consistent death metal style heard throughout the song. The song has a slight cavernous quality to it, akin to something like Runemagick or Teitanblood, and for the most part, is a pretty straightforward OSDM track. I love the dissonance in the guitars which seem to imbue the music with a sense of urgency. The guitar break at 1:42 provides us a brief respite before we are hit with some of the most hectic drumming on the album. The blasts are insane, unhinged, and cathartic.
Track four I am mainly mentioning because of its incredible title “Werewhale”. This conjures up so many disturbing images in my head that I had to stop thinking about it. The track for the most part follows the formula the band has set up. I am once again pleasantly surprised by the jazzy experimental section we hear at 2:45, the juxtaposition between light and darkness provides engaging textures that I always appreciate in heavy music.
A final mention goes to the track “Monolith of Grace”, which is a perfect closer to such a chaotic album. Its start gives me the feeling that I am floating or suspended in liquid before slipping into a wistful, almost sorrowful, section despite the distorted riffs and double kick. This track features no vocals which allow the instruments and textures to gleam. This track has so much passion dripping from it, it is hard not to like. It’s potentially one of my favourite tracks from the record.
Although the pieces I did not mention from the album follow a lot of the same trends heard up to now, I would not describe the music as getting tired, and the album has engaging qualities from start to finish (if we ignore the intro track). Besides the small criticisms made throughout my review, I would definitely recommend this album to anyone who is partial to death metal, doom, and/or experimental metal. Considering this is the band’s first release, there is space to grow and develop their sound; however, this is a solid debut and one that is worth giving a few spins.
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You can grab a digital copy of Revered Decadence over on the East Breath Records Bandcamp page as well as CDs and shirts. No vinyl seems to be available at present and the band does not seem to be on Spotify in my region, but perhaps you will find them in yours.