If there’s one thing that Switzerland’s Rorcal can’t be faulted for, it’s their prolificacy. Now on their fourth full-length following a string of splits, short EPs, and a live album, the Geneva-based sludge/post-metal outfit stretch into even more ambitious territory on their newest output, Creon. Based upon the story of its eponymous figure (a pleasure for a scholarly nerd like myself), the music on Creon is fittingly bleak and nihilistic as its respective subjects, each of whom fits the mold of the classical Greek tragedy. Rorcal’s winding, monolithic mixture of sludge, post-metal, and blackened doom burrows deep into the psyche, and while Creon has a share of small problems, it’s a compelling, albeit draining listen.
For those unversed in the story of Creon, let my halfway useful BA in English Education show its worth: Creon was the ruler of Thebes, husband to Eurydice, and the dude who had to exile his crazy comrade Oedipus who was a literal motherfucker and gouged out his own eyes. In the tragedy Antigone, Creon finds himself embroiled in the middle of multiple conflicts and tragedies caused by the fallout left behind by Oedipus’s exile and his sons’ ascent as rulers.
It’s at this point in the narrative Rorcal weave together the conceptual threads that form Creon, and the opener “Πολυνείκης (Polynices)” is an excellent musical parallel to the commonly used in medias res of Greek works. Even for an opening track, the swarming, dissonant cloud of guitars and crashing cymbals, held together by hammering bass drum pulses makes one feel that we’ve entered the scene after something apocalyptic has already transpired. (Hint: It has.) We go nearly 6 minutes into the opener with nary a vocalization, instead probing the depths of rotating, rolling tom-heavy drum patterns and eerie minor key tremolos immersed in the tense darkness. The vocals though enter a hoarse, desperate scream that occasionally dives into deeper, more gutteral territory, and as the screams dominate the mix, the music underneath becomes even more frenzied, subtly shifting from monstrous sludge to chromatic, ugly, haunting black metal that is a wall unto itself, impenetrable and dark. These bursts of black metal give way to harrowing, despondent post-metal that stubbornly sticks to its draining, lightless aesthetic.
“Ἀντιγόνη (Antigone)” starts out deceptively as a simple drum pattern gives way to a guitar line that rises and falls in waves, finally slithering into a chaotic wall of black metal that is some of the most melodic material on the album, giving an emotional but no less oppressive dimension to the song and the movement of Creon as an entity. In a smart songwriting move, it ends much the same it started, but far more deconstructed, more tattered and torn and weary than its beginning. It segues wonderfully into the depressive, eerie beginning arpeggio of “Αἵμων (Haemon),” which gives one of the few reprieves in dynamics before whipping listeners into another maelstrom built upon the motif of its opening line. Closing cut “Εὐρυδίκη (Eurydice)” is the most doom-influenced of the four long-play tracks but still relies on its blackened sense of chromatics and chord voicings to drive its ideas along. It ends cathartically, though, with some of the most melodic guitar lines on the entirety of Creon, and providing that bittersweet sense of closure at any tragedy.
(Oh yeah, forgot to tell you that EVERYONE IS DEAD. Do some research to find out how it happened.)
If one thing can be faulted of Creon it’s that its stark aesthetic, though entrancing and enveloping at first, leaves quite a bit to be desired in terms of dynamics. Despite the amount of post-metal influence, Rorcal operate in three main gears on Creon –– churning black metal, ugly doom/sludge, and drawn-out, pummeling dissonance — and over the course of the album’s running time (4 tracks, 55 minutes, do the math), the template starts to wear thin. Yes, it’s oppressive, and yes, it has glimpses of beauty and melancholy. But underneath the hopelessness and darkness, there’s not much else to discover. Creon is not at all a subtle album and that proves to be its primary drawback. It’s a good listen for a few rounds, but you eventually get the feeling that the aim of Creon was to be one-dimensional. That fault aside, Creon will push all the right buttons if you’re looking to fall into a void of despair and anguish.
Creon will be released on 03.25.2016 via Halo of Flies (and a bunch of other labels for distro) and is available for pre-order. For more information on Rorcal, visit their official website or Facebook.