Question – Doomed Passages (2014)

question-doomed_passages

This review was contributed to Death Metal Underground by Neil Sigmundsson.

The best albums are greater than the sum of their parts and provide the capability for listener immersion due to their length and integration but the song is still generally the most important and most fundamental compositional unit in death metal. Paying too much attention to atmosphere, musicianship, individual riffs, or other aesthetical and shallow (though important) qualities of an album can lead to overlooking compositional shortcomings, especially after the mind starts to fatigue or when listening to dense material. This is the case with Doomed Passages, which feels convincing – and in some aspects it is – but suffers from a number of flaws that might be missed during casual listening. That being said, even though the music of Question is imperfect, it is modest and sincere and at its best moments overflows with contagious vigor and energy that leaps fearlessly towards the abyss, a mark of the upper echelons of death metal artists.

First, praise is due to some of the mechanical and aesthetical elements of this album. The roaring, expressive vocals, replete with various single-syllable exclamations and grunts, are highly enjoyable and benefit from a cavernous quality due to studio-induced reverb. The drums are commendable in their creativity and in demonstrating a subtle understanding of the level of activity that best complements any given situation. Rumbling double bass creates a “rolling” sensation of high momentum at certain tempi. The production is deep and clear, and has a bit of cushion, but more separation between the instruments might have been beneficial.

There are two truly excellent songs on Doomed Passages: the second and fifth tracks. “Nefarious Conclusion” is the most structurally rigorous composition on the album, being basically linear but still having a clear exposition, rising action, climax, and falling action. This results in a rewarding experience. 0:00-0:50 is an example of creating variation, exploration, and motion out of a single phrase. The drum build-up to the invigorating climactic riff is genius; it sounds like transitioning from walking to running. The transitions at 1:15 and 4:34 are somewhat rough, but not enough to harm the composition. “Universal Path of Disgrace” has one of the most memorable riffs on the album, a sprawling eight bar tremolo-picked cycle. After the second occurrence of this riff and its accomplice, the song heads logically into a strange middle section that sounds like being in an unstable, slightly psychedelic limbo. A climax and resolution emerge from there. This song offers an interesting journey but it is slightly less satisfying than “Nefarious Conclusion.”

Aside from these two tracks, the remainder of the material on Doomed Passages shows promise and has shining moments but suffers from various problems. Some of these issues are abrupt transitions (“Mournful Stench” at 3:35), weak conclusions (“Devoured from Within”), and segments that overstay their welcome (the introduction of “…Bitter Gleam of Inexistence”). However, the major recurring problem and the biggest downfall of Question, though it is not immediately apparent due to the large number of riffs (many of which sound similar), is the purposeless, wandering song structures. In their template, Question take a single riff or a small group of riffs that act as an “anchor,” and they dance a bunch of ideas around that anchor before departing in an uncertain, random direction. This resembles a very relaxed version of what Slayer pioneered on tracks like “At Dawn They Sleep,” which completes two verse-chorus cycles and then departs radically from pop structure. The difference – and it’s a significant difference – is that Slayer maintained a strong narrative and a sense of purpose and tension throughout the entirety of their songs, whereas Question is usually content with wandering aimlessly. That Question can string a huge number of riffs together without the result sounding like patchwork is impressive (see “Grey Sorrow”), but cohesion alone does not make death metal of lasting quality, and as a result an appreciable amount of this material feels pointless and is frustrating to endure.

As hinted at above, there are simply too many riffs on Doomed Passages, a large proportion of which are interchangeable and forgettable, appear only once, and serve no vital function. Question demonstrate that they know how to overcome this problem in multiple ways (developing phrases, relating riffs through common or similar phrases, writing highly memorable riffs, returning to previous ideas in different contexts, etc.), but they need to apply these habits more diligently. There are focused passages, and there are highly memorable riffs, but ideally all of the passages should be focused and all of the riffs memorable and necessary. Thus, whereas many death metal bands have simplified their song structures to the detriment of the music, Question can actually benefit from being somewhat more repetitive in order to remove the forgettable and less evocative riffs and develop only their best and darkest ideas. This can be done while retaining the narrative, exploratory song structures. It will occurs more  naturally and easily when the music is written and played with specific purpose and direction. More dynamics might also help in stressing important sections, as the sound sometimes blends into a monotonous stream. The digital, compressed production is of no help.

Another lesser issue with Doomed Passages is that consonance sometimes feels out of place when it appears in the midst of the generally dissonant and chromatic music. The interlude “Through the Vacuous River” is the most blatant offender, though the riff at 5:28 of “Universal Path of Disgrace” is questionable as well. While consonance is not vital for this music to express something meaningful, there is potential in its skillful application, as demonstrated by 3:00-3:35 of “Mournful Stench,” a section that arises at an appropriate time but is unfortunately not fully developed. The acoustic final track also works fairly well in context. If Question would hone their skills at incorporating consonance into their musical language, the wider range of expression will provide them with more tools for communication.

The standout songs on this album prove that Question is capable of writing intense and adventurous narrative death metal of the highest caliber. All of the tracks have redeemable and enjoyable qualities and marks of skilled craftsmanship, but most are hampered by the flaws discussed above. To further improve their already above average music, Question need to at least  scrap the forgettable riffs and instead develop more extensively their best ideas while taking  the reins and writing more directed and focused compositions. The second change can be realized either by forcing the songs to move toward clear climaxes and satisfying conclusions or by finding some wisdom and inspiration that can be represented in and communicated through the music. These young musicians are certainly technically proficient but need to write more coherent compositions if they want to inspirit their music instead of joining the ranks of so many other failed techdeath endeavors.

Readers may listen to Doomed Passages on Chaos Record’s Bandcamp page.

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10 thoughts on “Question – Doomed Passages (2014)”

  1. Numbered Paragraphs and Footnotes.org says:

    I’ve read both of your reviews and in each case I’ve found myself wondering when you were going to describe the actual experience of the music. What is being expressed by the artist(s)?

    1. Neil S. says:

      That is a shortcoming of mine, so your criticism is legitimate and well-received. In this case, I did not mention it because it was not clear to me. I don’t know whether that says more about the quality of the music or about me as a listener.

  2. bubb says:

    Please get off your entitled elitist ass and update http://www.nationaldayofslayer.org/

  3. Neil S. says:

    Some clarifications: 1. I said that “Nefarious Conclusion” is the most structurally rigorous song, but that’s not actually saying much considering the riff salad nature here. And 2. I was too hyperbolic/glowing in a couple of places: “truly excellent songs,” “death metal of the highest caliber,” etc. To anyone who reads the review, cut those phrases down a couple of notches.

  4. Belano says:

    Hey, Neil, great review. It’s true that maybe talking about what you think is the meaning of the album or of the songs could have helped to understand more what Question is trying to do. But I think that your review has an element I would like to see more in reviews: a detailed description of what is happening in specific songs, for explaining those you consider good songs as well as those you find bad. The comparison with Slayer and your general comment about the good and bad traits of Doomed Passages were also enriching. So, in other words, I hope you continue contributing here.

    One question: if you can/want, could you expand (maybe here, maybe in another article) on “the difference – and it’s a significant difference – is that Slayer maintained a strong narrative and a sense of purpose and tension throughout the entirety of their songs, whereas Question is usually content with wandering aimlessly”? I understand what you’re saying, but I think it could be interesting to know exactly in what musical traits you find that difference.

    1. Neil S. says:

      Hi Belano, thank you for your feedback. I have answered your question to the best of my ability.

      “Slayer maintained a strong narrative and a sense of purpose and tension throughout the entirety of their songs…”

      In the DLA review of Reign in Blood, Brett Stevens said that “with the liberation of song structure that comes from entirely riff-based music, Slayer approach Ornette Coleman’s free jazz ideal that “the pattern for a tune, for instance, will be forgotten and the tune itself will be the pattern” but do so not through randomness but intensely structured, ritualistically planned songs.” I think that Mr. Stevens also said (though I do not remember where) something to the effect of, “Slayer’s music literally sounds like what the lyrics are describing.” These two quotes, when taken together, embody what I mean when I say that Slayer maintained strong narratives in their songs. All aspects of the music, including the song structure, come across as being subservient to the goal of storytelling. To avoid generalizing, I will cite “Necrophiliac” and “At Dawn They Sleep” as foremost examples.

      Even though the vocals and the lyrics strengthen and “specify” the narrative in the case of Slayer, they are not the key because I would still be arguing that the aforementioned songs have strong narratives if they were instrumental. Instead, I think that the key lies somewhere in 1. the building and releasing of tension (guitar and drums are both important here), 2. evocative riffs, and 3. coherent/logical songwriting (a narrative may or may not emerge depending on the flow and arrangement of riffs). Consider the second half of “At Dawn They Sleep,” which uses dynamics, changes in tempo, changes in drum activity and patterns, specific riffs and harmonies, specific methods of transitioning between riffs, etc. to maintain (smoothness/cohesion), direct (anticipation), and propel (momentum) the narrative. Together with the vocals, the songwriting is so effective that I can actually see the antagonists “emerging from their hellish tomb, taking flight amidst the night” and then murdering their victims, which is a testament not only to the evocative power of the music but also to the narrative, because the lyrical events unfold with the song in time.

      “…whereas Question is usually content with wandering aimlessly.”

      [Although lyrics in death metal have generally become de-emphasized, I do not have access to the lyrics of Question so I am missing a potentially important element of their music. That said,] I can tell that “something is happening/developing” in the best Slayer songs even when I am not actively paying attention to them; on the other hand, most of Question’s songs do not give the sense of a larger narrative, instead feeling like an endless, purposeless string of riffs even when I am paying attention to them. The cause of this is probably a lack of all three of the factors named in the previous paragraph. As a matter of fact, I mentioned all three in separate places in the review:

      1. “the sound sometimes blends into a monotonous stream” (end of fifth paragraph)
      2. “there are simply too many riffs…a large proportion of which are interchangeable and forgettable, appear only once, and serve no vital function” (beginning of fifth paragraph)
      3. “cohesion alone does not make death metal of lasting quality” (end of fourth paragraph)

      I did not think to tie these issues together until now.

      1. ghfhgfhgf says:

        ” “Slayer’s music literally sounds like what the lyrics are describing.” ”
        I think he said that of Sepultura. http://www.amazon.com/review/R1WCT0M01879D8/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B0011ZTWHK

        You’re my new favorite writer. I look forward to future articles, and am anticipating and hopeful of your improvement.

        1. Neil S. says:

          Thank you for the correction.

          Your comment is flattering. I currently have no plans for future articles, but I will remember that there is a receptive audience here.

          1. vOddy says:

            If you ever want to write about some thing metal related, you know where to send the result.

            You have your own style, but it’s a good style.

      2. Belano says:

        Thanks, Neil, for the detailed answer. Now I have a clearer vision of why Slayer has a better “narrative” than Question. Having read your answer and listened to the songs, I think I would like to see more analysis of specific songs, together with more global visions of album reviews, which is what we normally read at. For example it would be really interesting to read an article where all the elements you mentioned (building and releasing of tension, evocative riffs and coherent/logical songwriting) would be pointed out, signaling the time when those things occur, like you did with “Nefarious Conclusion”. Also, it could be interesting to discuss, with specific examples, when a riff is evocative —and why—, when we could talk of a narrative and when of a simple “endless, purposeless string of riffs”. For a global view, it’s nice to read reviews that focus mainly on the perception of the reviewer, but sometimes, at least to me, it’s more interesting to focus on the elements that create the perception.

        I think that if the analysis goes into more specific aspects we can understand metal better and why we think one album or song is better than another. For example, Gabe Kagan wrote a review of Krallice (http://www.deathmetal.org/review/krallice-ygg-hurr-2015/) and then Metal for Music Majors wrote a rebuttal (https://metalformusicmajors.wordpress.com/2016/02/11/a-rebuttal-to-gabe-kagans-review-of-ygg-huur/). Like I wrote there in the comments section, it looks like MfMM is factually correct regarding the objective traits of the song described by him. But when I listen to the album I feel the same way as Gabe regarding the songs of that album. However since I’m not a musician, I can’t describe why is that. I can only say that I don’t “feel”, “listen” only one idea being developed, but rather several musical ideas mingled together. If we could delve into this topic in depth and find what elements of the music are making people like me and Gabe think it is chaotic music, in a bad way, then there would also be more precision in the description of music for future reviews.

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