I can’t say I’m overly familiar with harsh noise, especially considering the harshness of said noise is not something that I’m always in the mood for. It’s different than listening to extreme metal, despite what some might say. You have to be willing to put yourself into something that throws out any sense of musicality in favor of pure atmosphere. However, picking up this column last year did me well in terms of broadening my horizons, and Great Dismal Swamp have the kind of name that immediately draws me in, so I took a chance on Virginia.
This would be the part where I would dive into a little bit of the history of the band, but I honestly don’t know much at all about Great Dismal Swamp, outside of the fact that they are “the brainchild of Carson Fleishman and Baroque Hardcastle,” they hail from Virginia (if you can believe it) and Virginia the album follows up on last year’s debut 1763. Straddling the lines between genres, the project blends aspects of extreme metal, harsh noise, field recordings, ambient music and industrial into a conglomeration of “experimental doom metal,” although on Virginia, the experimentation is much heavier handed than the doom metal. Virginia was, according to the band, “conjured from the isolation, misery and restlessness of modern existence.” It’s easy to see why, when you listen to the lyrics and look at the song titles. There is obviously a message about society buried shallow in here, and the album is also described as “an exercise in capturing the vistas, sounds and energies of the darkest places of the earth.” Virginia sure does an excellent job of that, with tons of recordings drowning in layers of distortion and washed with effects that twist the mind and conjure up feelings of claustrophobia and almost paranoia.
Admittedly, I did not know what to make of Virginia at first, but any band that can make an opening statement that contains the phrase “Toiling through the sucking ooze” is a band after my own heart. The aforementioned “Alpha Drone” begins the journey with spacey, eerie and synths and heavily phased and distorted harsh vocals that repeat over and over until one starts to feel one’s faculties escape them. To put it simply, it sounds exactly like being lost and trapped in a swamp. The ambience shifts in the next track, “Ritual for Cleansing the Forsaken and the Mire They Inhabit,” which clocks in at over twelve minutes of moans, groans, strong driving percussion and the introduction of some industrial elements that creep their way into the cracks in Virginia. The vocal effects that are employed over the album are probably the aspect that leaves the most lasting impression. Tons of distortion, phasing and insidious pitch shifting bring the words, mostly spoken or growled, to the forefront and allow them to play off the background pieces. The closing duo of the album, “The Cityscape in Which My Nightmares Dwell” and “Finally, the Machine Dies,” play out a back-and-forth dance between ambient, almost calm electronics and unsettling atmosphere, building into the most metal the album gets, with actual electric guitars and drums under growls and whispers. The more one listens, the more one discovers Virginia is more than just a harsh noise release. It is its own identity, one that blends harshness from every aspect of music and consciousness.
Is Virginia an easy listen? No, but it’s much easier than I thought it would be. It is dense, moody, brooding and dark, but the cinematic quality of the songs and the well-crafted atmosphere the band builds up allow you to be drawn into the world they have set up for themselves, and you. It is a really immersive experience, and one that I would recommend if it sounds up your alley. Just watch out for that sucking ooze.