Schammasch – The Maldoror Chants: Hermaphrodite

The Swiss avant-garde black metal quatuor, not satisfied from having released perhaps the best triple-album ever just last year, is already back with The Maldoror Chants: Hermaphrodite. It’s sold as an EP, but crosses the thirty minutes threshold that is commonly used to distinguish EPs from full-lengths; it has seven tracks, but the whole thing feels like one continuous journey into the obscure places of our mind; it’s a work of art that goes above and beyond the traditional scope of black metal and the avant-garde… Indeed, the band themselves wrote that Hermaphrodite is an ‘artistic experiment’, and it’s immediately evident once the prologue has passed and the first notes of ‘The Weighty Burden of an Eternal Secret’ begin. Not only that, but it’s the first of an unknown number of releases that will be based on Les chants de Maldoror, a novel by Isidore-Lucien Ducasse, Comte de Lautréamont, published between 1868 and 1869.

The story of this verse, found within the book, is that of a hermaphrodite wondering about his place in the world. Suffering from his apparent difference and because of prejudices from the society, he stays in solitude, trapped in self-loathing, battling his instincts and his reason. This is the first-degree interpretation, but I’ll leave the higher-dimensional readings to you, as everyone’s own life experience will bring them a different analysis of the work.

Musically, Hermaphrodite is very atmospheric, and at times droning. It sounds very occult and important, yet without being pompous or conceited. Comparing it to Triangle, I say it would fit somewhere between discs two and three. However this comparison has its limits, and Hermaphrodite is definitely its own thing, different in style and approach, and in production too. Schammasch claimed they didn’t want production to come in the way of artistic integrity or expression, and it shows. While being less clear than on their previous album, it’s of high quality, and is just murky enough to get more out of the music than the music itself. Attached to it comes a new meaning, fragments of information that can be taken into account when listening to and analyzing this album. Here my interpretation would be that nothing is ever clear, and that the lines are always blurry, even between things commonly seen as opposites like the male and the female bodies, or the left and right hemispheres of the brain, or the impulses of the brain and of the heart, of reason and emotion… That’s the importance the choice of production quality bears, with such an often-overlooked detail, you can get so much if you include it in your artistic process.

The riffs on the album are mostly in low tempi, taking a step back from the fore in order for the crushing atmosphere to breathe. The drums sometimes give a strong presence to the toms, giving these passages a ritualistic feeling, reinforcing the occult vibe in which the whole cloth is drenched. The singer is often backed by deep choirs reminiscent of monastic chants, making these parts solemn, sacred. The blast beats are used only in the most dire situations, the zenith of the piece so as not to tire the genre’s stereotype and keep that typical beat as efficient as it can be. The musicians are clearly gathered behind a vision, which they also see and support completely. Schammasch is, and has been for a while already, more of a singular entity than any other band, and the prime beneficiaries of this symbiosis is you and I, the appreciators and the sharers of music.

Despite its length, dwarfed by its predecessors, The Maldoror Chants: Hermaphrodite is a release of high importance. Higher even, perhaps, than the almighty Triangle despite being foreseeably less appreciated only because of its much deeper and inherent artistic experimentation. Make no mistake: Hermaphrodite is much more important to music, black metal, and the future of Schammasch than Triangle, despite the former’s conciseness and the latter’s quality and fame. It comes out on June ninth, and it’s the first of a series of short albums based on the same book. Be afraid, jump in.

Band: Schammasch
Album: The Maldoror Chants: Hermaphrodite
Release date: 9 June 2017
Country: Switzerland
Label: Prosthetic Records

Hermaphrodite – 30:27
1. Prologue – 5:10
2. The Weighty Burden of an Eternal Secret – 6:25
3. Along the Road That Leads to Bedlam – 3:38
4. These Tresses Are Sacred – 1:41
5. May His Illusion Last until Dawn’s Awakening – 4:48
6. Chimerical Hope – 4:26
7. Do Not Open Your Eyes – 4:19
Total running time: 30:27

Chris S.R. – vocals, guitars
Boris A.W. – drums
M.A. – guitars
A.T. – bass

Filetype listened to: MP3
Bitrate: 320kbps CBR
Sampling frequency: 44,100 Hz, 2 channels