As beautiful as Disemballerina‘s UNDERTAKER is, it is, at time, painful to listen to. Especially when one does a bit of digging and learns the macabre truth of this music. The first thing that piqued my interest when this album was brought to my attention was the unique artwork, which appears to be a bird smashed against glass, majestic and beautiful even in death (which, as it turns out, is kind of the theme of this album). Well, that’s because it is a dead bird smashed against glass. Apparently, all of the artwork for this album was created by literally pressing found dead birds against the glass of copiers at Kinko’s. I’m sure that was a riot for the Kinko’s employees; I also sincerely hope they sanitized the copiers after that.
Now even more entranced in the mystique, I decided to do a bit of background research on the band as I listened to their ethereal album. One of the first things I stumbled upon was an article where the mastermind behind this project confirms that the labored breathing present in the first track was the death rattle of his dear friend, recorded moments before she passed away. At first, one can’t help but feel a little incredulous after hearing something like that. You’d think that would be viewed as disrespectful to the dead, right? On the contrary, this album seems to be both a lamentation and a celebration of the final journey, an ode to death, aptly named after the one who inters the honored dead. The music is exactly how one hopes their own passing would be, melancholic yet serene and beautiful. There are times when the music rises up in fervor, perhaps raging against fate and throwing anger against death rather than calm appreciation and acceptance. But acceptance does come. The music itself is quite sound, routed in an Allagochy or Opethy folksiness with a dark, melancholy about it. But the atmosphere it creates, without the use of the heavier elements of either band is astounding. The band still manages to be heavy while using primarily chamber instruments, but they aren’t TRYING to be heavy.
So many bands attempt to create odes to death. So many bands go far over the top and have such unrealistic interpretations of death and how it is handled. This is a bleakly realistic, painfully honest look at passing. It doesn’t attempt to scare you, it doesn’t make death into some monster to be used in movies; it erases preconceived notions of a cartoony skeleton in a hood holding a farming implement. It presents death as a force of nature. Something that is inevitable and painful, but not necessarily something that should be feared. As a quote on the artists’ page says, “Their debut CD could possibly fit in a curated classical or folk bin, but the mood Disemballerina evokes – of rolling storm clouds, of thundering hooves and blood-strewn battlefields – is pure metal” (Portland Mercury).
Disemballerina is the sun cresting a hill, overlooking a blood-soaked battlefield. Crows feasting, people dying. The sound of dented armor and chipped swords rattling as the corpses that were their former owners give their last death rattles. You grimly survey it all. A strange, bleak beauty left after all the bloodshed. Trekking home through the autumn woods alone, reflecting on the death that has surrounded you, but grateful for the life that has been left you. Disemballerina’s Undertaker is the soundtrack that plays in the background. More of Disemballerina’s bird art: http://www.xeroxedbirds.blogspot.com/