Album Review: Dysphoria Part 1 by Formes

Well here we go, exit comfort zone and into the world of Formes. I am not entirely sure what I am getting into here because it is taking me towards genres that I am not familiar with, and, as I have commented on a number of times before  Formes are certainly pushing the boundaries of what could be termed psych. However, while I thought their taster track for the album, Tumult, was firmly in the direction of Death Metal; there is much more going on here and I am struggling to explain it.

The phrase that keeps going round in my mind upon hearing the first track, ‘Through This Hole’, is ‘jazz metal’ – which is perhaps rather provocative. It’s not meant to be, but it’s just that the production on the album is too smooth to be considered purely metal, whereas the sound is too hard and heavy to be considered easy listening (this album is not an easy listen and is all the better for it). Rather this is an interesting mix of styles that I have not really come across before which I am finding reassuringly challenging. The track flies out of the traps in a full death/ post metal rage but (and not for the first time) completely changes tack into something quite different – the ‘jazz’ element. This contrast is necessary because it preludes the struggle that is going on in this album, the madness that is to come, it sets out the light and the dark…there is a real sense of foreboding here amidst the almost fluid lounge melodies.

Things get considerable darker with the second track, ‘I Am Nothing’ which has a sinister beauty to it that, as the title suggests, reflects an existential crisis where the death metal growl reflects an inner turmoil. There is an inner fight going on here as high and deep vocals reflect this inner struggle. I think that this is an extremely mature song, and one that reflects the band’s willingness to experiment and innovate. Two tracks in and I am already having my brain pulled in all sorts of positions to discern the meaning and intention behind this album.

Never mind, I thought, I am familiar with the third track, ‘Tumult’, which I premiered here a few months back. However, the version on the album sounds considerably different; more polished. It shows that this band are on some sort of upward spiral which is seeing them develop their sound at a quite stunning rate. They are wholly different proposition from that group I saw as recently as March this year. When I first heard it I thought ‘Tumult’ was really out there in terms of what Formes we about. Hearing this album I would say that it is probably the most conventional track here. Again reflecting the existential angst of the previous track and, if anything, taking it up a notch as the  growl comes higher in the mix and we see the struggle really take hold. It’s hard going…it’s confrontational…it’s rewarding.

formes new pic bw

One would hope that after this we might be heading for some sort of resolution, not if the title of the next track ‘I Will Make You Ill’ is anything to go by. Beginning with a monotone synth drone, psych guitar and the growl it seems clear that the dark side is winning. Is this the black dog of depression? That would be my summation, but at any rate it is a very unsettling beginning to a track which left me (already pummelled from the first half of the album) feeling really quite empty. This track sucks the life force out of you and reflects the protagonist of this song cycle being nothing but an empty husk.

To be honest ‘Smile Club’ could not come too soon. With its acoustic guitar and bright vocals, there is still a whiff of the previous tracks in the background: that the darkness is never far away. There is a real melancholia to this track but this is a huge step up from the despair of ‘I Will Make You Ill’. Then, at the moment when the huge post-metal riff kicks in, you find yourself hoping out of all hope that the growl will not come back, and I was so relieved when it did not (I really do not remember such a moment of relief listening to a rock track before). Instead there is a lightness to the production despite the heaviness of the music – and it does get heavy here…a great track which adds a moment of colour to an otherwise monochrome album.

But has there been a healing? Has the growl gone away? Well after that hope comes the final track, ‘Dead Ends’ comes the return of the darkness. It suggests that the darkness will always be there, but it also suggests to me that although there is a balance of darkness and light the struggle is essentially fruitless…which is presumably where Dysphoria Part 2 will come in.

I like music that is on the edge of chaos, it is one of the things that I write about most in this blog. The bands that I like, most notably Killing Joke, all operate here and as a result do not see the need to adhere to particular styles and consequently do interesting things with different genres and styles (i.e. psych, jazz, doom and metal). In Dysphoria Part 1 Formes have produced the first half of a concept package (and this needs to be listened to as a complete album) which is musically very satisfying, emotionally mature and lyrically stimulating. It uses the different genres brilliantly to reflect the existential battles that take place inside us all. As an album it is quite an achievement, as a debut…!



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