Pain Necessary to Know
epetition often yields recognition. In music, even the most difficult passages become patterns through repetition. This applies to both songs and albums. Repeated listens of albums create knowledge and anticipation of the succession of events. Rare is the album that defies comprehension after many listens; rarer still is the album that does so, not out of incoherence, but out of design. Ephel Duath guitarist and mastermind Davide Tiso says, “Repetition is comfortable for the audience. It kills the shocking side of the real innovation.” His band’s latest album, Pain Necessary to Know, avoids repetition like the plague. Inspired by his new hometown, Venice, Tiso has created 39 minutes of continually changing “liquid music.” According to Tiso, the album offers “a constant sense of anxiety, a fluctuating idea of controlled chaos.” Those discomfited by comfort will find much to enjoy here.
Named for a mountain range in Tolkien’s mythology, Ephel Duath began in 1998 as a duo. The band’s debut, Phormula (later repackaged and reissued by Earache as Rephormula), ran Norwegian black metal through a funhouse of electronics and demented wackiness. Vocalist/guitarist Giuliano Mogicato then left, throwing the band’s future into doubt. Surprisingly, Tiso carried on by recruiting non-metal musicians. With a lineup including a 47 year-old jazz/blues drummer, a funk/pop bassist, and two vocalists contributing screamed and sung vocals, Ephel Duath released The Painter’s Palette in 2003. The stunningly eclectic album was aptly titled. Metal, prog rock, and free jazz held equal sway as trumpet and saxophone bleated away on top. The band’s ace in the hole was Davide Tolomei, whose Mike Patton-esque crooning leavened even the harshest textures. The album must be heard to be believed; it’s truly a musical kitchen sink, and a tough act to follow.
However, as we know, Tiso loathes repetition. Instead of continuing the fireworks of The Painter’s Palette, he has streamlined things somewhat. Gone are the horns, as well as Tolomei, who evidently didn’t take to the band’s metallic elements. There’s a new keyboardist, Riccardo Pasini, but his role is more as textural support, rather than as a lead voice. In writing Pain Necessary to Know, Tiso found his guitar lines changing to compensate for Tolomei’s departure. Thus, the guitars are more melodic than before, with far less repetition. In fact, there is so little repetition that the notion of “riff” becomes inapplicable. Instead, the guitar plays in free-flowing figures, toggling between clean and dirty tones with eye-blink frequency. One passage in “Crystalline Whirl” goes from Isis Sturm und Drang to slicing odd meter cymbal catches to King Crimson-esque unison runs to a sinuous snake charmer groove—all within 30 seconds. Unlike, say, The Dillinger Escape Plan, these twists and turns aren’t spastic. Through tight playing and brilliant composition, these ten-second themes flow together coherently. The effect is kaleidoscopic; just when one begins to grasp one theme, it becomes another that’s related yet distant.
Music like this isn’t easy listening. There’s not much in the way of vocals, save for the occasional screamed verse. Even after many listens, nothing repeats enough for songs to stick in the head. Instead, the listener has shifting signposts—an organ texture here, a plucked harmonic there, whatever one remembers from last time. The album has no definable mood; words like “happy,” “sad,” “aggressive,” or “mellow” hardly describe material this abstract. The listener doesn’t even have the comfort of genre. Much of this album is so far removed from metal that it is only sold as such because of the band’s previous output. Some possible reference points could be Opeth, Fantomas, Primus, and even Phish, but this album is its own beast.