Friday, 26 February 2021

Dalit - Moksha (2021)

Country: Norway
Style: Doom/Death Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 15 Jan 2021
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Unusual circumstances have led me to re-start this review three times over three days so I've listened through Moksha countless times. It's an interesting album because it doesn't behave like most to my brain. For instance, it impressed me from the very beginning and it only deepens with further listens, but it remains a little elusive, refusing to knock me out. It's a good album and it keeps on telling me that it's going to be a great one if only I stay with it but, while it does get better, it never quite finds that magic X factor to shift it into the halls of greatness.

While it's broken into eight songs, it plays to me more like a single 41 minute duet between two very different voices. Eirik Hellem, who is also Dalit's bass player, provides a harsh vocal that's rich but not warm. It's an interesting voice, because Hellem stays in a relatively consistent tone throughout but is still able to intonate and remain engaging. We listen to him, even when we're unable to catch all his words. Guro Birkeli provides a clean female voice that does have that warmth and it's interesting too.

There's a spirituality in her voice, which is ancient enough to drift between Norse, Celtic and even, on The Best of All Possible Worlds, middle eastern mythologies. I believe that Dalit is a Christian band, a surprising fact to me given that the album title is the concept of enlightenment in Hinduism and the band's very name is Hindu, the Sanskrit word that I thought described those at the lowest end of the caste system who deemed "untouchables". Digging deeper, I realise that it's also a term used by those who have converted from Hinduism or Islam to Christianity.

Both voices feel a lot older than they are, as if they've been there and done that and understand what went down, perhaps for aeons. There's a timelessness to them both, as if we're not listening to people but gods whose time may be long gone but who are still around and looking down on we mortals with mixed emotions. Hellem is more urgent and demanding. Birkeli is calmer and more patient, especially on Anthem, where she draws out phrases magnificently. And, while Hellem's voice is always dark, hers isn't simply light to contrast. It's a more flexible voice that meets more needs. It's often soft but it's as often powerful.

The music backs up the vocals capably, the sections Hellem leads being crunchy doom/death with the guitars a wall—if not a haboob following in his wake—and those with Birkeli more delicate and with far more nuance. Beyond more soulful guitar, her sections often feature strings and echoey piano for a sound that isn't just melancholy, it's life. Put together, there's a lot of dynamic play, as each singer gives way to the other for a while, and the overall feel is My Dying Bride, but across eras.

I like this album a lot, even if it steadfastly refuses to become more than it is. Those 41 minutes keep on getting shorter every time I listen. It's getting to the point where I pop it on, let the moods take me and suddenly it's over again. Each song blurs more into the next, so I can't really pull out any as a favourite. Sons of Adam, Daughters of Eve, which opens up the album, is the whole thing in miniature but I think I'd call Anthem the best song here. The guitars are more ambitious and the pace is a little faster in Hellem's sections and Birkeli's are just as immersive. Hallways of Sadness is a highlight too, especially with additional keyboards from Jon Ivar Larsen. I like Fra Jord til støv a lot too, even if it ends the album and I'm still not ready for that.

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