Selbst - Despondency Chord Progressions

Artist: Selbst

Album Title: Despondency Chord Progressions

Label: Debemur Morti Productions

Date of Release: 19 April 2024

I do believe that this is a first for me, in that I find myself reviewing a musical entity from Venezuela. It’s not the first country to spring to mind when thinking about heavy music, especially the kind with which we are faced here. But the beauty of heavy music is that it is universal, and a deep passion for music cares not for geography. I therefore present to you Selbst, essentially a one-man project courtesy of muti-instrumentalist who simply goes by the name of ‘N’. He is joined on ‘Despondency Chord Progressions’ by session drummer Jonathan Heredia but everything else you hear on this record has been written and performed by the enigmatic N.

As the title of Selbst’s third full-length record may suggest quite overtly, the music on ‘Despondency Chord Progressions’ cannot be described as light-hearted, relaxed, or feel-good. This is black metal that is equal parts aggressive, dark, emotional, and powerful. It immediately comes across as abrasive and caustic but, with time and attention, there’s a real fragility that comes across too. Mixed in with the aggression is an unexpected amount of warmth and a surprising quota of melody, as well. Vocals are a blend of gruff and clean although N favours the former, whilst the seven compositions here are nicely balanced between fast-paced attack and more reserved passages, providing a good flow and drama to the experience.

The sound of growing and intensifying feedback brings the opening track to life. However, it’s not long before ‘La Encarnacion de todos los miedos’ (‘The Incarnation Of All Fears’) lives up to its name, with cold, fast-picked riffing, a thunderous bass and drum rhythm combination, and haunting, rasping screams all coming together in a furious tumult that verges on the cacophonous. Once the mists begin to clear and the track settles down, you begin, however, to pick out some really nice lead guitar notes that punctuate the furious onslaught with just a hint of accessibility that becomes more obvious with greater familiarity. There’s barely any let-up within the opener, meaning it’s quite an intense and breathless start.

What I wasn’t expecting next, after such a punishing start, was what is presented to us with ‘When True Loneliness Is Experienced’. Not only does the song begin ominously with the sounds of a lone cello, but as the atmosphere builds, it is then built on by a lead guitar solo that’s bluesy and melodious, reminding me just a little of Dire Straits of all bands. Don’t worry, though, because it really works, and helps to create some of that unexpected nuance and flow that I mentioned earlier in the review. Without doubt, the first two minutes of this song are two of my favourites across the album, although the slower, more ponderous riff that follows is tough to beat, too. And then, just when you think the song can’t get better, in comes some clean crooning atop those crunching guitar notes and measured mid-paced rhythms to hammer home N’s ability to embrace both aggression and melody within his musical vision. The remainder of the song then deviates between slower moments where uncomfortable sounds emerge, and faster blasts of power more akin to the opener.

Selbst - Despondency Chord Progressions
Credit: Natasha Villamizar

If anything, the experience becomes even better thanks to ‘Third World Wretchedness’ and ‘Chant Of Self Confrontation’ which follow in quick succession. The former absolutely batters in its early stages, producing some of the fastest material on this record. But, after a couple of minutes, it changes tack. Slowing down, it ramps up the atmosphere thanks to a greater use of orchestration, whilst those deliciously crunchy guitar tones deliver heavy notes upon which the lead guitar lines work their magic, even harmonising at one point, sending shivers down my spine. This composition is truly epic in its ability to perfectly marry the spiteful aggression with more measured, emotional, and poignant sounds, culminating in a wail of gruff despair at the death. The latter, ‘Chant Of Self Confrontation’ opens in cagey, dissonant fashion before once again, launching into a blitzing black metal frenzy. It’s short-lived, however, as the bulk of the track plunders a claustrophobic mid pace, albeit driven by incessant double-pedal drumming for much of it. What I adore most, though, is that there’s always room for more seductive melody that genuinely tugs at the heartstrings, particularly when N’s clean vocals are unleashed once more. And the more I listen, the more spellbound I become, with subtle little nuances identifying themselves as they venture warily from the shadows.

There’s room for more surprises too because ‘Between Seclusion And Obsession’ breaks out the acoustic guitars and synth-led atmosphere. The Latin American origins of our protagonist make themselves known as N dances across the fretboard, picking and strumming with impressive flair. And then, more clean vocals are unleashed in the second half of the song, pleading with real emotion, built upon by the increasingly intense and enveloping sounds that build behind him.

Closing out with the equally rewarding and enjoyable sounds of ‘The Stench Of A Dead Spirit’, the final act ends the entire album on a glorious high. More melodious and considered lead guitar lines end things on a properly emotional and memorable note. The only negative I can even begin to consider here, is the drum production, primarily around the cymbals, as occasionally they threaten to overpower the music with an all-encompassing, incoherent hiss. But, if truth be told, I’m picking tiny holes in an album that has genuinely surprised and thrilled me since I first pressed play a week or so ago. This isn’t black metal in the traditional sense, but it is black metal that rips out your heart and plays with your emotions. It isn’t the most miserable and bleak album I’ve ever heard, but if you listen to this when in the wrong mindset, I suspect it could break you. But right here, right now, ‘Despondency Chord Progressions’ just thrills me for all the right reasons; raw and aggressive, but also warm and emotionally deep, this is the real deal.

The Score of Much Metal: 93%



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