And Now The Owls Are Smiling – Dirges
Reviewed: January 2021
Released: 2021, Clobber Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
As I sit here and write this, there’s a sharp chill in the winter air, the sun has been absent for hours (though it’s barely 8pm), and Anno 2020 is in the final throes of its demise – spurring all kinds of moments of reflection around what has passed and the fragile hopes for what may yet come. DIRGES, the 3rd album from And Now The Owls Are Smiling is railing through my speakers, and I can’t help but think what a perfect soundtrack this is to the unsettled anxiety so many of us have felt this year, when sometimes all you’ve wanted to do is scream at the f@#king sky…
Branded as “atmospheric black metal”, ANTOAS fit snuggly in the newer school of black metal bands like Vattnet Viskar (R.I.P.), Deafheaven, and An Autumn For Crippled Children while still tending its roots in the ethos of traditional black metal. Now don’t get all fussy now if those comparisons turn you off, because DIRGES proves itself to be an exceptional record that goes well beyond skinny jeans and shoegazing. Helmed by multi-instrumentalist Nre, the 8 tracks on DIRGES weave similarly constructed tapestries that feed into and off of each other in an impressive display of consistency and balance.
There’s plenty of the expected high neck melancholy riffing and synth emphasis, but the melodies and hooks that Nre builds within such a simplified framework is what makes DIRGES such a remarkable listen. standout tracks like “Rejection”, “Pointlessness” and “Acceptance” are in truth pretty sparse in their base structure, but there’s an intentionality in the layering of each of the instruments that in aggregate make the tunes sound absolutely epic. That, and Nre has a real gift for crafting the most woeful of melodies interplaying between the guitars and synth, somehow always managing to hit you in the deepest of feels.
Bands like And Now The Owls Are Smiling often get a tough go at it – they’re too emo for the heavy crowd, to heavy for the emo crowd, all the while neither crowd has actually taken the time to listen to the record and make an objective decision for themselves. Which would be a shame, because if they did, they’d realize that DIRGES hits enough of the cross genre sweet spots to resonate with a wide swath of the metal populous. There were plenty of moments when I was reminded of each of the bands I mentioned earlier, but there are also healthy doses of Ensiferum, Emperor, Ancient, and Anathema at play as well, collectively making for the kind of party that I’d definitely want to attend.
DIRGES swings manic depressively between the most aspirational highs and the most pull yourself under the blanket and cry of lows; it’s one of those rare listening experiences that can truly illicit a physical reaction. It’s unsettling, but it’s also exhilarating. Judge for yourself when DIRGES releases on January 29.