I have a soft spot for heavy, atmospheric metal music that’s so confidently itself it deserves to be pushed from its shadowy hiding place into the spotlight. The metal supergroup Dagtum and their debut full-length album is one such unique monstrosity that you must hear.
The international metal community has already laid down laurels and great reviews about this chunk of reverby death and dissonant doom metal from Pateros, but it’s how labels from Indonesia and Belgium have already taken them into their roster to produce physical cassettes and CDs that proves to me this is a cool bunch comfortable with their independent success.
Dagtum is an assault of death metal with inventive, weird, and dissonant riffs. Their chord progressions blend excellently to create a bleak, dystopic wall of sonic atmosphere and dark mythos. Made up of the infamous Vivo Brothers—who’ve played for Insektlife Cycle and Hateure—Ronaldo Jr and Ronnel (or Nal and Nel), and Adam Carlo Along (known as AC) of Legion, their first album is eight tracks clocking in at 37 minutes. They have a sound that conjured a time and place where snake gods and fallen cherubs live alongside Third World modern refuse and technological filth.
There’s a manifesto of refusal here. A reflex odium at how easy it is to condone social malfeasance. To me it’s a protest album against the worst angels of our nature but one that springs from a palette of sludge, doom, and death. Apparently, the band is also unafraid to use anything that adds to the miserable ambiance. Take for example the opening instrumental track “Immaculate Decay” that includes what sounds like horns (a sax?) and perhaps an accordion along with the usual guitars on a squad of delay and reverb pedals.
Sure, Dagtum is taking notes and paying homage to Ulcerate, Neurosis, Isis, and even Blut Aust Nord, but what’s exceptional here is the admirable pull to restraint that they employ to create contrast and emphasis. “Avarice Enshrined” is a single that’s a dramatic suite of noise and aggression without leaning too far into the aesthetic of “let’s go super heavy all the time!” As metal music veterans, the easiest thing to these boys is to play hard. But I like how they also structure a dynamic of volume (sometimes it’s loud, sometimes it’s really really loud) and intensity. It makes me aware of how this power trio is intimately cognizant of how this heavy metal thing works. Definitely not their first rodeo.
The best tracks strike a fine balance between restraint and onslaught. Fine examples are a combo of post-metal introspection and technical playing writhing in a freakish tangle. Tracks like “Seething Seasons in Catharsis” and “Ill-Lit.” Then there’s the purely instrumental “Monolith of Grace” as the closing track. It’s not just an adequate epilogue but a display of mastery that sends us off on a hopeful note—if you can believe, a ray of very dim light in the levels of Hell we just journeyed through.
As artful as Dagtum are with their song structure, this is still a hands down metal album. The vocals are growling and undecipherable, the distortion is like bathing in buckets of molasses. As delicious a slice of extreme music this is, it’s not for those who are new to this side of the fringe dial. If you want to appreciate such madness, best to lower yourself into the deep end by degrees. Do not start with Dagtum—not just yet. But for those already initiated into the realms of shadow, take a dose of this joint and enjoy the discomfort of a very giddy descent.