Written by: Beaston Lane
In a far-flung epoch where humanity as we know it is but a memory, glamorous towers pierce the heavens, and elite societies vie for supremacy. Everything is greater than the sum of its parts. Etemen Ænka finds itself exploring this simultaneously utopian and dystopian future, dissecting the suffering that underlies greatness. Dvne, named in reference to Frank Herbert’s legendary works of science fiction, draws inspiration from the best sci-fi and dystopias of our time, constructing their own grandiose narrative to the tune of epic psychedelic post-metal. With a musical approach as striking and expansive as their lyrical concepts, Dvne’s debut on Metal Blade is a tremendous step forward for the band, laying the foundations for what will hopefully be a storied career.
From the gradual crescendo of album opener “Enûma Eliš” alone, it’s evident that Dvne has concentrated on creating deeper textures within their instrumental compositions. Differently from 2017’s Asheran, Etemen Ænka features keyboards in a prominent role, underscoring the dueling guitars and thumping bass with a sense of ethereality. Evelyn May helms the keys with mastery, injecting further nuance into incredible instrumental compositions. This serene heaviness sets the tone for the rest of the record, with “Enûma Eliš” serving as a tempestuous portent of what’s to come. The lyrics are vague, allowing room for interpretation, but providing just enough context to situate the forthcoming futuristic episodes.
The first true epic, “Towers,” explodes from silence with a monstrous doom riff filled with melancholia as Daniel Barter’s brutal growls immediately create an environment of oppression. This track is the first that clearly illustrates Dvne’s dystopian future, detailing the millennia of suffering undertaken by lower classes to construct inconceivably gigantic “castles to the sky” commissioned by the ruling elite. The twist comes when vocalist Victor Vicart passionately screams “flourishing!” at the end of verses detailing torturous labor, implying that those enslaved for generations have brainwashed themselves into believing meaning in their endless suffering to avoid confronting their horrible reality. Reminiscent of how the pyramids of Egypt were built, this concept is also reflected in the instrumentation, which transitions from a slow grind to an aggressive explosion, culminating in triumphant melodies. Synth triplets are elevated to the top of the mix, providing an opulent overtone to the hypnotic riffage, reflecting the majesty and the gluttony represented by these towers of vanity.
Following what may be one of the best tracks released in 2021 is a tough task, but Dvne doesn’t lose a step on “Court of the Matriarch,” a track that once again details the majesty of future civilizations, this time solely from the rulers’ point of view. At once a battle anthem and a self-exalting hymnal, “Court of the Matriarch” does its best to embody divinity in the throes of ambition. As the song progresses, the instruments fade in and out of heaviness, evoking a tumultuous serenity through melodic yet hectic hammer-ons and pull-offs.
The first interlude, “Weighing of the Heart,” provides a reprieve from Dvne’s normal attack with understated keyboards and what seems like incantations foreshadowing “Omega Severer,” a breathtaking, polarizing epic. Depicting the ascension of man past the constraints of time, “Omega Severer” fittingly transcends its 10-minute runtime, with frequent twists that prevent the track from ever becoming stale. It continues the soft incantations from “Weighing of the Heart” in the first bridge section, which evokes the melodic side of bands like Imperial Triumphant. Drummer Dudley Tait gets to hit some amazing drum fills while the guitars hold down crushing riffs and while they opt for arpeggiated melodies. “Omega Severer” is more proof of Dvne’s ability to write engaging odysseys, closing the first half of Etemen Ænka with vigor and finesse.
After this series of epics comes “Adræden,” an interlude helmed by the keyboard whose sole purpose is to build up the heavy-hitting lead single “Sì-XIV.” Opening with a controlled explosion like that of “Towers,” the main riff immediately calls to mind Crack the Skye-era Mastodon with its anthemic power and ethereal mysteriousness. Told from the perspective of the serfs of intergalactic oligarchs, “Sì-XIV” utilizes the dystopian motif of a working class under the spell of mind-altering drugs to once again illustrate that the oligarchs won’t actually improve the standard of living for the laborers, instead opting for a quick remedy that denies them their humanity. Although it mirrors the concept of “Towers,” this track contrasts in that it builds to a violent outro spurred on by riffs as imposing as tidal waves. Bassist Greg Armstrong shines in the build-up to this eruption, laying down astonishingly smooth, deep-toned leads. “Sì-XIV” provides a new perspective in this intergalactic landscape, allowing Dvne to further flesh out their worldbuilding.
“Mleccha” keeps the flow going, introducing itself with tranquil instrumentation and pensive guitar work. Instead of the violent revolution alluded to in “Si-XIV,” it seems that the serfs have discovered what life is like without the drugs, finding beauty in their liberation rather than anger. It’s this pervasive ataraxia that forms the backbone of “Mleccha,” an interesting deviation from the typical dystopian process of liberation through violence.
This tranquility is quickly tainted by an inexplicable sorrow buried in the depths of “Asphodel,” a delicate lullaby with a downtrodden sense of inevitability. The light notes of “Asphodel” blend with the beginning of “Satuya,” the final and longest track on Etemen Ænka. “Satuya” is mainly instrumental, gradually taking the atmosphere of “Asphodel” and imbuing it with apocalyptic intensity as sparse lyrics detail visions of destruction. Catharsis comes at last when a doom riff of cosmic proportions reveals itself as suddenly as an earthquake, concluding the album on a high note and a musical cliffhanger. Is “Satuya” the end of this narrative, or is it the beginning of another? Until Dvne’s next album, the answer will be a mystery.
Albums like Etemen Ænka are proof that thoughtful storytelling works in heavy metal, and that riffs can do much more than create mosh pits. The creative acuity displayed by Dvne on this record both narratively and musically is what makes it a triumph, and I can only hope that they keep it up on future releases. Dvne is a relatively young band, and if the quantum leap in between Asheran and Etemen Ænka is any indication, we may hear them in the same conversations as The Ocean and Cult of Luna sooner rather than later. It’s hard to envision how Dvne could ever top an album as immaculate as Etemen Ænka, but with this type of creativity, anything is possible.
Dvne - Etemen Ænka was released March 19th, 2021 from Metal Blade Records
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!