A triple album can be an ambitious endeavor. And more often than not, bands tend to lose themselves in the expansiveness of their own ideas; stylistically and conceptually. When presented with Triangle, the latest effort from Swiss extreme avant-garde metal group Schammasch, I initially turned away, assuming the same fate would befall this album. Yet, after researching the group and this particular project, and in a moment of definitive curiosity, I decided to dive into Triangle‘s hour and a half experiment in sound and emotion. And then I couldn’t put it away. A true journey in sound and mind, with Triangle, Schammasch set their sights high and manage to deliver — from the music right down to the ideas behind it.
Before exploring the intimidating depths of Triangle, it is important to take a step back and understand the big picture, as these three albums are split apart quite effectively. Each third is a different analysis of the human condition. As such, focusing on one concept at a time offers clarity to the overall production when reassembled at the end. And, simply put, it makes listening to 100 minutes of complex music less daunting. For the sake of keeping things organized, this particular account of the album will be broken up in similar fashion, as each portion offers some different stylistic tendencies and invokes different reactions from an audience. And to emphasize, this is possibly the most thought-provoking work of music I’ve spent time with in recent years. Don’t expect Triangle to serve as background music; it requires your undivided attention. Get comfortable.
Part I: The Process of Dying
Despite the fact that the opening six tracks are centered around the concept of accepting loss and pain, this is where the album initially captures you… without wasting any time. The opening “Crepusculum” is straightforward enough — dense rhythms gallop along, slowly escalating the sound to an evermore expansive environment that involves delicate leads and differing percussion patterns. Perhaps continuing for a bit longer than necessary, after three minutes it eventually yields to “Father’s Breath”, where vocalist C.S.R immediately impresses with his monolithic voice. But here we also realize that Schammasch chooses to burden a listener with chord progressions and rhythms defined by their deliberation and weight, rather than speed; using low tones associated with apparent melodic doom influences. Sure, there are moments of tempo, but here the intensity is meant to be felt in the sheer weight of the atmosphere.
The most impressive moments of this section of Triangle surely fall within “In Dialog With Death”. The third longest track is possibly the most ambitious. The vocals take a more dynamic approach, fluctuating from clean, bellowing words to the guttural growls we opened with, while also throwing in some spoken words for good measure. Equally as creative are the instrumentals. Traditional black metal guitar passages, focused on consistent patterns and pace, are interspersed with thrashier chugging and piercing leads, utilizing several musical influences in an impressively cohesive track.
Things become a bit familiar upon reaching “Diluculum”, as a similar doomy structure is filled with a melody that continues to expand on the previously established sonical structures. Yet, this instrumental interlude serves us well before we move into the empowering “Consensus” and the faster, sharper “Awakening from the Dream of Life” (which, by the way, is easily my favorite song title — challenging everything we believe to be true about the process of dying). These tracks are on the lengthy side, but it’s here things seem to almost rise from the depths, especially in the concluding track through it’s utilization of higher tremolo picking and tapping leads. Closing with spoken passages and the deep, enveloping tones of the bass, the atmospheric quality compounds, markinga comfortable acceptance of loss, as it were. As things slide to an end, this first section can be described as a dense, jarring affair that is difficult to turn away from because of its cohesiveness, despite the emotional chasm it creates.
Part II: Metaflesh
Perhaps a little less dense than the opening half hour or so of Triangle, the second section really drives home the experimental nature of this album. There is a bit more a balance between the weight and the melody within the music. Opening with “The World Destroyed By Water”, the music again patiently builds for several minutes. But the tones early on are light, easy-going, and generally do well to keep things level. Tempos change, vocals deviate, but the leads remain precise and the overall listening quality remains relatively airy. Fast-forwarding a bit, a similar story can be told on “Above the Stars of God”, with the primary difference being the unprecedented focus on the numerous guitar solos early on, which seem as though they were heavily inspired by, dare I say it, Pink Floyd.
But this section isn’t without some pace. Tremolo picking still cautiously drives the lengthier sonical moments along, apparent in the opening minutes of “Satori”, for example, allowing the rest of the music to build around it and meander between various styles and influences. The drums don’t spend nearly as much time centered around the blasts that made up the early stages of this album, rather they explore a wider range of cadences and sounds… offering an almost tribal dryness at times. Furthermore, where the vocals were almost overpowering in their monolithic weight before, there is now deviation into cleaner, and almost litugorical styles, only adding to Triangle‘s complexities.
These middle tracks are never stationary. The focus in this section is on balance both musically and conceptually. When you look at the driving moments of “Metanoia”, there is a focus on consistent galloping percussion that you would expect from more viking-based death metal metal projects. Yet, the varying leads above them — which are never comfortable committing to a single, defined path — coupled with the clean, echoing vocals at our forefront, create a new sound entirely. And while all this experimentation is exciting and interesting, the best part of these tracks is how all this deviation builds to the incredibly uplifting second half of the aforementioned “Above the Stars of God”. The leads layered behind the consistent bellowing vocals of the same, passionate lyrics forces inspiration. The highlight moments of the album, without question.
Five tracks, with a clear beginning and end, could not be filled with more complexity. Virtually all ranges of metal are put to the test and are forced to work together. And work together it all does. If you pulled these middle stages out and isolated these tracks on their own album, there would be absolutely nothing to complain about. There are plenty of ties back to Part I, but with noticeably more progressiveness and more frequented melody in both sound and structure, all rounding off with a sobering ending in “Conclusion.”
Part III: The Supernal Clear Light of the Void
By this point, we’ve listened to over an hour of complex, dense, dark music that has exhausted us with manipulation of every possible emotion. Yet it is here that the sound strays furthest away from Triangle‘s origins. Tribal cadences that were hinted at previously become a more fundamental aspect of the music and more experimental instruments are brought into play. But beyond that, instead of forcing emotions upon an audience with lyrics, the absence of vocals coupled with sounds that are dark, rhythmic, and patient, force introspection and allow a wide range of thought to emerge on their own. It’s as though it almost offers a sense of mental and emotional freedom.
There is no doubt that musically the timing of these sounds is curious… for over an hour our experience was driven by powerful and diverse layers of atmosphere and sound that forced our attention. Through both the immensity and the complexity of the music and lyrics, we were captivated by Triangle. Yet now, things have halted. From a conceptual standpoint, it make sense. The mental turmoil communicated previously has resolved itself to a form of peace. But from a high level listening standpoint, it becomes difficult to keep focused. So much effort was involved in absorbing everything that had come before that we are left now feeling absent, impatient, and disengaged. That’s not to say these songs aren’t impressive. Far from it. Despite being perhaps unnecessarily elongated, the careful precision of each track is unique in its own way. From the dry grit of “Cathartic Confession” to the haunting melody of “Jacob’s Dream”, each song manages to take a more minimalist approach to music, yet still find ways to create something unique.
Still, these final tracks require the most effort to get through. The dissonance of “Maelstrom” seems endless before the percussion and chants of the final two and a half minutes finally get a rise out of us. Much of the same can be said about “The Empyrean”. But here, at least, droning guitars and a recognizable return to vocals — even if spoken — end things on a more interesting, albeit uncomfortably jarring, note. But challenging the audience is part of the goal here.
It is almost impossible to summarize Triangle efficiently. The ground this album covers is perhaps unlike any continuous piece of music I have listened to in my lifetime. Schammasch took on an incredibly ambitious endeavor here. Conceptually, they nailed it. Musically, at times, it was as good as anything I have heard in years. Yet there were also moments of frustration. But quality was never compromised in musicianship or production, which leaves the bigger impression in the end. Most notably, Triangle makes you think. It forces you to understand and accept discomfort. It challenges your emotional and mental being through an immensely complex sound that surrounds and suffocates. Was this subject to some similar downfalls as other triple albums? Sure… 100 minutes is an incredible undertaking. But there is no doubt that Triangle was also successful in everything it sought out to do. It is impressive on all levels, especially in its lasting impact on an audience. Triangle, and the time I spent with it, will resonate with me for some time.
“Ein Bier… bitte.”