Written by: Lord Hsrah
The last ten or so days have been immensely heavy for me, I must confess. I'm not sure if this is the aftermath of the lockdown or is it just the feelies, but my existential dread and depressive episodes have never been this high before. It's been real doom and gloom hours. These aren't those times when the 3AM feels hit you, you cry yourself to sleep and the next morning you're all ready and up to face whatever's coming at you--no, no, no--these are the hard ones that persist for days. In this absolutely down-and-out period, Australian depressive black metal outfit Cancer's Opioid has been an ethereal companion to me, and while coping has been tough, there's solace in knowing I'm not alone. Let's talk.
Hailing from Perth, Australia, Cancer now comprises of John Pescod (vocals and production) and Dan Jackson (guitars, bass and arrangements), former members of fellow black metal band Deadspace. With an EP and a full-length already under their belt, the black metal duo bring forth to these shores their most ambitious release so far, their second full-length effort, Opioid. Opioid is a self-produced and self-mastered 8-track concept album about--and in memory of--19th Century English essayist Thomas De Quincey, widely regarded as a pioneer of addiction literature. The album title is derived from one of Quincey's most popular literary outputs, "Confessions of an English Opium Eater,"which was an in-depth account of his experiences with opium and his addiction of the drug.
The album is a good mix of an assortment of different styles of varying degrees and extents of usage, as the eight tracks take you through various phases and passages via some very solid song writing and composition talents shared in the band. The guitar work draws inspiration from a range of bands that spearheaded the second wave of black metal. Overlaid tremolo-picked lead lines and consonant rhythm sections that scream Emperor and Dissection are willfully coupled by the dissonant riffage inspired by bands like Enslaved. Other iterations of death metal like guitar work creep out very well throughout the album while light keyboard accompaniments bring to the table a subtle atmosphere to wrap it all up. Pescod's harsh screeches and gnarly shrieks drawn from DSBM add the last piece to complete the depressive black metal package.
Tracks "The Eater" and "The Dreamer" start off the album, both of which are, quite like the first part of "Confessions...", brief records of Quincey's life in Victorian England, his reasons for living embodied in addiction, and a foreshadowing of dreams created through addiction that haunted his life consciously as well as subconsciously. Taking on the second part of his seminal work, the six remaining tracks are cumulatively grouped into their own story titled "The Depth," with each part detailing one of Quincey's many vivid dreams he burdened till death.
Opioid is a wonderfully crafted album with some really good production and mixing, robust compositions, and some very philosophical/mournful fantasy-esque lyrics that hold your hand and walk you through different mental landscapes that are all painted in grey on the black canvas of an addict's mind. The melodic passages illustrate the high points of the trip when the drug hits and the blissful reactions waltz in you brain like hummingbirds around orchidae under the warm sunlight, while the chaotic and dissonant sections highlight the plight of an addict who, without his substance of addiction, is basically just a naked man out in a blizzard, longing for the warmth of a dying cinder. The songs play a beautiful contrasting game to evoke a myriad of feelings as the songs play out on the record.
I've listened to this album whilst blank-staring at the walls in my room as though my eyesight could pierce it and gaze beyond the fabrics of time wherein, somewhere, lies my future, of which I remain quite uncertain. And through this endless staring and pondering, Opioid has been an amazing partner, something I don't know whether it was meant to happen or not. We might not be opium eaters (well, most of us at least.) However, the album's theme of addiction's effects and consequences kinda make me feel like we're all addicts too, in that we're all addicted to something in our lives, be it a vice, a substance, a person that brightens up our day, or just a feeling--we're all slaves to our (chemical) reaction-inducing-consuming brain. Our addictions are a big part of our lives, and it's something we turn to often as our coping mechanism, something we cannot run away from; we may get rid of one but that's always replaced by the next thing. Some of are consumed by them, some just struggle to make it, some live with it, but it always haunts us, consciously or subconsciously.
Cancer's sophomore effort really is a nice philosophical trip, one you'd enjoy if you're in the same headspace as me. The album isn't perfect in any way; there's some sections I particularly didn't enjoy, some I felt were better omitted, but the sentimental value one can derive from it--from music--is what carries a lot of weight. Of course, my thoughts in this review are subjective, and someone reading this may not agree with me, but that's the beauty of music and lyrics. There's only different levels of abstraction, you have the scene in front of you but what you infer from it is what matters. I must also mention the "welcoming" quality of the production that's so well done, and has played a big part in me taking a liking to this record. If you're a fan of DSBM or depressive stuff, I would strongly recommend Opioid to you.
Cancer - Opioid will be released Aug. 14th, 2020. Preorder here--you still have a day!
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!