Either through an innate preference for the heroic amidst the mundane, or at the very least for the sake of convenience, undertakings great and small are often boiled down to the individual. Charlemagne himself brought the majority of Europe under the heel of Christianity. Kurt Cobain alone saved music from a future filled with hairspray and sequins. Tony from the Indianapolis branch through his own sheer will saved the company from ending the fiscal year in the red. It’s all gross over-simplification and often bullshit. Tony’s probably a huge dick, anyway. But life imitates art, and art overwhelmingly speaks to the very special and better-than-you individual versus everything else.
The outsized impact of charismatic individuals is present in metal, too. Black Sabbath as a whole is revered, but realistically speaking lines are drawn for Ozzy and Dio (with all due respect to Tony Martin and Co.). The number of solo projects that Devin Townsend juggles would make a three-armed circus performer cry. And often, “the band” is physically and metaphorically relegated to the back. The one avenue where an individual effort really makes sense is black metal. Besides the aspirant tonal qualities, the natural iconoclasm of the genre lends itself well as an outlet for one individual to rage at… well at this point anything is fair game. The shroud of the pseudonym, the corpse paint, and the walls of lo-fi sound and inhuman shrieking can ironically create their own hagiography, but all of it constitutes a not-insurmountable barrier for a single person willing to explore the space alone.
And how Satan’s musical offspring have multiplied since Venom first welcomed us to Hell. As the ability and cost to produce quality music becomes more and more attainable, no doubt five more solo black metal projects have popped into existence since typing this sentence. Amidst the bounty, though, there is still merit in seeking out the exceptional. Worth singling out is France’s Dïatrïbe, which launched in 2019 as the sole effort of the man known only as Ombre. Satyric Eye (aka Satirical Eye, if you’re searching on Bandcamp) is the band’s first full-length record following independently released demos and a 2021 EP for Vendetta Records.
Comprising Satyric Eye are 10 tracks dripping with dread and malice. The entire effort is projected solely through the lens of Ombre, the sole purveyor and master of Dïatrïbe’s austere but lithe approach to creating music both atmospheric and unsettling. Using a sonic palette consisting primarily of the absolute bare essentials, the modus operandi here is to do a lot with a little following a workmanlike approach. The menace and melody wrenched from the guitars elevates songs from extreme for their own sake to extreme for an artistic purpose. Layers of distortion and washed-out wails create evil soundscapes that instill awe despite the malevolent aura that appropriately colors tracks with titles like “Natural Born Evil” and “Marked with the Seal of Curse”. The drums, which if not recorded live are impressively programmed and sound extremely human, work to lend an authenticity that screams the evil on display is no trifle.
All this can be partially attributed to Ombre’s solo ethos. Barring a folksy but not out-of-place introductory track and the first handful of seconds of “Desire and Purity” immediately following it (some very harsh, electronic effects that do feel a little out of place in retrospect), Satyric Eye could be a single 40-minute song. It’s too easy to postulate without any evidence, but it’s not out of the question that sharing song-writing duties could lead to a very different, maybe even diluted, presentation. On the flipside, it’s possible that Satyric Eye is Dïatrïbe at its most indulgent. However, I’m willing to give Ombre the benefit of the doubt that his sense of when to exert restraint and when to let ideas off the leash to fully blossom is trustworthy.
There are predilections here for both the psychedelic and the droning, but neither tangent is allowed to bloat the aforementioned austerity. The cacophony remains calculated, and the album overall feels like a single idea approached from all angles. Ombre grants us a single perspective, eliminating any peripheral objections or distractions. What this also eliminates, though, are any surprises. Every song feels like a logical progression from beginning to end, and rarely can you consider any part of any song unexpected. The uniformity of Satyric Eye that might make you wonder if the entire past, present, and future of Dïatrïbe is contained within this one album. The songs here are so well lived in, though, I’m not sure who would want anything different if you’re on board with what’s on offer. You wouldn’t expect your cat to hold a conversation with you in Spanish, and you wouldn’t go to Dïatrïbe for anything but an old school sound filtered through a new school atmosphere. It’s an approach that works, and there are a lot of reasons to hope that there’s more in store.
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