Domains – Sinister Ceremonies (2014)

Guest post by former editor David Rosales

In the reception of a new work of art (rather than a commercial product), there are two main ways of going about evaluating its worth. The first is to assess its qualities on their own and their overall result as a unitary agent. The second is to consider its relative worth in terms of the time and place when it was produced as well as taking a utilitarian view point that can give a “function” to it. The first of these two is the hardest as it requires technical and philosophical insights working holistically, the background for which is not obtained through casual acquaintance of history or plain repetition of “classics” of the genre. It requires years of internalization of both composition methods and a constant meditation on the powers behind music as pertaining to the human mind. The latter is naturally the common choice by virtue of its extreme relativism, which makes almost any interpretation, whether negative or positive, admissible and excusable.

Sinister Ceremonies came out last year, apparently made some waves and popped up in “Best of the year” lists. While it did not make it to DMU’s own list, this may be more due to a lack of diligence on part of the staff than anything else. But given the limited manpower the site wields and the overwhelming number of records released per year, it is not surprising that even an outstanding record flies by unnoticed, let alone a commendable but unimpressive and ultimately irrelevant effort like Domains’. The opinion of the average metal journalist/critic/blogue means little after all, and their majority support of anything is an indicator of lowest common denominator appeal (fuck democracy).

Taking the simple-minded relativist stance, Sinister Ceremonies comes out with a full checklist as it is both balanced, intelligible, catchy, easy to listen to, and to some, perhaps even “brutal” and “dark”. Objectively, to be fair, the songwriting here is actually sober and very self-conscious. The constructions and composition methodology is clear textbook — but perhaps too clear. Its unimaginative and extremely conservative adherence to proven techniques at all levels from riff execution to build-ups and long-range developments are a sure score with conservative underground listeners with a mid-range attention span but fall short of a complete work. What this means is that while the album covers the basics of metal songwriting exemplarily, the full art of composition — its power to attribute meaning and direction to passages weaving into a story — is something that may be entirely foreign to the band.

Finally, the minor achievement that constitutes Domains’ “solid” composition is only a highlight because of the depressive state of affairs of the modern metal landscape, when mediocrity and capricious nonsense made by non-musicians (“professional” or not) reign supreme. In and of itself, Domains Sinister Ceremonies will garner passing and only temporary attention by some conservative types, but its shallow waters will prove an uneventful disappointment for the more serious listener in search of a dungeon to brave.

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4 thoughts on “Domains – Sinister Ceremonies (2014)”

  1. Daniel Maarat says:

    The album is very repetitive and the strong parts aren’t strong enough to forgive the extreme metal songwriting sins.

  2. discodjango says:

    This is indeed not a great album, but a pretty solid one. I didn’t know it was on many ‘best of the year’ lists. I listened to it again a few days ago and expected it to have lost quality over the last months as most of the other neo-OSDM releases of the last five to ten years did. Yet I was surprised that it hasn’t sunken into complete mediocrity, albeit ranking only slightly above good ‘entertainment’ metal. I appreciate the occasional ‘blackish’ (sorry, but I don’t have a better word for it) approach of the guitar, which to me seems relatively uncommon in this context, although taken individually it is not really a new idea.

  3. Anthony says:

    “The first is to assess its qualities on their own and their overall result as a unitary agent. The second is to consider its relative worth in terms of the time and place when it was produced as well as taking a utilitarian view point that can give a “function” to it.”

    Very, very true. These two methods of reviewing albums can also be extrapolated both to one’s own songwriting (in the case of musicians) and one’s general attitude towards metal at large (in the case of listeners). Attitude one produces classics (directly by way of musicians and indirectly by way of listeners throwing their dollars behind good albums) and attitude two produces what we have today.

    Take Coheed and Cambria and Yes. The former clearly approaches music from a number two (insert Butthead uh-huh-huh-huh’ing here) mindset. They don’t write music, per se. They grab on to different markets/lifestyle choices. The high-pitched whiny vocals appeal to the indie beta male set, the sweeps and general flashiness grab the attention of the djenters and the kids who want to look smart for liking prog but can’t actually handle anything more complex than a Rush album, and the comic books and concept album story-lines are there for the nerds.

    Yes’ vocals are also rather high-pitched and odd-sounding, but they’re clearly a separate melodic piece that does a bit of a counterpoint thing with the other elements of the music, rather than leading the music in a pop fashion. Technicality is a means to an end, which is why Yes sounds more like classical music translated to guitars, bass, drums, and keys instead of the Satriani/Vai-esque noodling of modern “progressive” rock acts. The lyrics aren’t there to appeal to any particular dork demographic. They’re almost deliberately opaque and require a lot of background philosophical knowledge and interpretation on the part of the listener, and yet they’re also indelibly tied to the music in an operatic way.

    You can apply this dichotomy to a lot of different band/composer/musician/listener pairs. Azagthoth vs. Abasi. Wagner vs. Verdi. Incantation vs. Teitanblood. Mayhem vs. Deathspell Omega. Bruckner vs. Mahler. Black metal enthusiast vs. NWN! Forum Regular. Metalhead vs. Hipster. Hessian vs. Metalhead. In every case, the former is concerned with how good something is, whereas the latter is concerned with how much something approximates the aesthetics of something else (“relative worth in terms of the time and place when it was produced”) or how closely it suits their lifestyle or makes a statement they agree with (“taking a utilitarian view point that can give a ‘function’ to it”).

    Good to see you back, David.

    1. ODB says:

      The separation between the two isn’t as clear-cut though. I don’t think there can be real appreciation of quality without a knowledge of context and what niche a given piece of metal aspires to. That’s like missing the forest for the trees.

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