Deathspell Omega
Kénôse
The Ajna Offensive
2005
B+



with a synthesis of fierce religio-philosophical thought, Fin-de-Siècle art and literature, and near masterful takes on several musical genres, France’s Deathspell Omega has no equal. The band’s third full-length recording, 2004’s Si Monumnetum Requires, Circumspice—If you seek His monument, look around you—shows the scope that the horde is working with. Social relevance is rendered rather easily, as Deathspell’s eschatological infatuation pines away while nationalist religious propaganda and a traditional army is utilized to fight the militant religious propaganda of a non-traditional foe. The technologically inferior cloy their populace with polemics against the Great Western Satan, while the technologically superior sates their populace with the soul’s chicken soup of suburban Christianity and quasi Millennialism. The zeitgeist could be no kinder to Deathspell Omega.

And they are quick to cut to the heart of the matter, offering chilling new angles on the Drei-Reiche-Lehre concept, sweeping up gristle and blood from History’s meat market, and considering Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire, Hegel, Sade, and logocentrism all within Black Metal’s cancerous guise. The metastasis is decidedly profound: Enlightenment attempted to increase Reason’s wattage, so as to leave no shadow for faith to drape itself in. When the land was so brilliantly illuminated that all eyes were scrunched in squint, the pedants set out a different plan, screaming like agitated eagles, entangling one another in the talons of pointless argument. Religion, when reduced to campy notions of “God” as Walt Whitman simulacrum—an avuncular sage whom we pray to—or who chooses to intervene willy-nilly in the phenomenal realm as rusty Deus ex Machina, is exposed for what it is: A massively hopeless hoax.

Yet many are all too eager to count themselves as members of the willing duped, the frothing, conical hat donning rubes who point up to the sky as if the very piss that leaves their pricks is somehow part of an ethereal scheme, a sort of predetermined procedure as blandly commonplace as one’s business trip itinerary. The scientist revels in these procedures, unmasking souls as nerve bundles or neuron nests, while the faithful persistently find divine relevance in life’s most banal objects. Critical Theorists err on the side of the reductionist: Religion was the record of wishes and desires, as well as the accusations of innumerable generations—far from the self-righteous indignation of De Religione Romana’s censer smoking credo.

The worse the world around them gets, the more they look for something extra-worldly: Dissatisfaction with returning to the earth is the most powerful motive in faith’s leaping crime. Connecting the dots of offense comes too easily; the same construction that brought us Bach, Pärt and St. Peter’s gave us fear, hatred, irreparable harm. Which makes it rather easy to see why even Black Metal is clutching the cloth; the diametric opposition that balanced Good & Evil is not only blurred—it’s broken. There is no need for blasphemy and Baphomet where there is “holy war,” pedophilia, the happy conflation of democracy with theocracy. Small wonder that Black Metal outfits are integrating religious iconography into their more crepuscular symbolism. “The Word” has also managed to drift onto lyric sheets, as heathen hordes use the pious argumenta like a timber, caning genuflecting congregations into confused shape.

Deathspell Omega is certainly one of those hordes, as their latest effort, Kénôse, pummels the eyes and ears with an enigmatic amalgam of biology, theology and arcana. Spread liberally over a three part sonic appendix, Deathspell takes on a daunting topic—a perplexing exploration of Christ’s base humanity as typified by “kenotic theology”:
Was there not an inconceivable loss of knowledge at Bethlehem?
Christ's abasement, His subjecting Himself to the laws of Human birth
and growth and to the lowliness of fallen human nature...
Did the Son remain the
transcendent Logos,
is there not a radical and fatal discontinuity between
the consciousness
of the transcendent Logos and the secular Jesus?

“Obedience to the point of death,
falling down through increasing
Pressure
into the deathlike region
of ooze and slime and decay.
These are the fruits and symptoms of
the abasement of the World,
the assumption of humanity and the simultaneous occultation of Divinity.
So begins “Part 1,” with martial drumming, a choral exaltation, and a precise verbal attack on the very foundations of Christian thought. And while Deathspell’s lyrics are quite hermetic, the music is moodily extroverted, a curious mixture of the roaring engine of Black Metal guitars, and the slow meditative figures typified by avant-garde chamber music. Guitar riffs rumble underground and resurface in complex passages far too purpose-driven so as to be labeled “post rock.” Blastbeat monotony collides effortlessly with bizarre ambience: Circular chimes, harnessed feedback, and blacksmith percussion clasp dreary hands, creating a provocative accord between Penderecki and Funeral Mist. Yet, it’s far too easy to couch the listening experience in compositional flair: These are not songs; they are explanations—supplements to a dense textual body that methodically debunks scriptural talking points. With wildly cogent arguments, Deathspell takes up arms, system builders setting out in Wellies and combat pants, their word popping and ventilating the sacred as so many flocks of clay pigeons.

The wild hunt ensues with kenotic theology, a strain of Christian thought often discussed as contradictory and potentially dangerous to the whole of Christian theology. A perusal of origin unveils the object of discourse: Before kenose was confused with Christ, it was scraped onto scrolls by Pindar, Aeschylus, Sophocles. For the ancient Greek, kénôse connoted the void, a lack, or absence. Christians used kenosis like a candle, lighting it bright and winnowing it down into a puddle of meaning. The Christian “kenosis” finds textual mention in Philippians 2:7 – 2:8:
But made himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
German theologians specifically seized upon this “act” as the Synoptic portrait of Christ’s “human” personality. Logical contradiction is readily apparent: As God consists in Christ as an inseparable entity, the eschewing of divine attributes is synonymous with the shredding of Christianity’s fragile fundaments. How could Christ be omniscient, if to be human is to learn? How could original sin and Christ’s omnibenevolence be reconciled? How is Christ simultaneously the limited man and the unlimited ubermensch? The Orthodoxy was not fooled, soundly rejecting kenotic theology as an infant’s mouth tightens in the face of a spoon of pureed peas. The Christian God is affirmed as changeless; any incarnation of the Divine Father is not only logically impossible, it also clearly embodies the instance where God ceases to be God.

For each treatise contra Christ, Deathspell raises an elaborate configuration of riffs, plundering percussive fusillades—an able straddling of classical construction and metal bombast that sheaths each piece to the extent that they easily become unrecognizable for what they are: Manna for the nonbeliever.

As emaciated atheists search for sustenance free of spiritual preservative, countless preachers proffer Sunday sermons as pleas to take up arms in the ensuing culture war. Rural chagrin over Brokeback Mountain and a Christmas transmogrified into a “Holiday Season” are not only urban punchlines, they are also able means to explosive ends: Wilderness bunkers, caches of pipe bombs, hate crimes, abortion clinics razed in Jehovah’s name. Whether or not technology’s advance is responsible for ushering in a New Dark Age may be debatable, but one thing is certain: Deathspell Omega are fighting to be part of that formal discussion.


Reviewed by: Stewart Voegtlin
Reviewed on: 2006-01-30
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