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Divide and Dissolve
Systemic Miloš Hroch , July 7th, 2023 08:43

Divide and Dissolve bring poetry and an overwhelming sense of life and light to the doom metal scene, finds Milos Hroch

Doom metal was once born out of disillusioned white punks imagining industrial suburbia as a bleak hellscape. But the ancestors of Divide and Dissolve’s guitarist-saxophonist Takiaya Reed and drummer Sylvie Nehill survived the very real hell of colonial genocide. Reed is African American and Cherokee (Tsalagi), and Nehill is Māori. Both of their Indigenous heritages are channelled into the heaviness of their music.

If doom metal was about nihilism and obliteration through high doses of psychedelic drugs, Divide and Dissolve’s music is about communication and the enduring life-force. Their fourth full-length record, Systemic, remains in touch with the qualities that powered their breakthrough album Gas Lit from 2021, but marks a patient development with richer instrumentation.

When talking about the group’s concerts, people are apt to describe the experience in terms of a force that moves your guts. It is, undoubtedly, an apt description. The wicked combo of forceful drumming, all-consuming guitar riffs, and fierce saxophone overtones can storm the audience like a strong purgative. Nehill and Reed stick to the Sunn O))) principle that “maximum volume yields maximum results”. But there is also vulnerability, warmth and openness to their body-shaking music, as in the moments when Takiaya Reed pauses to trade guitar for saxophone or talks with a kind voice about race, tolerance, and decolonisation. 

One of the more surprising elements of the group’s make-up is poetry. Written by Venezuela-born and US-based poet Minori Sanchiz-Fung, spoken poems appear on at least one track per album. These verses have addressed prison abolition (on 2017’s Basic) and the violence performed through language (2018’s Abomination): “By using English,” Sanchiz-Fung writes, “I have let out many violent spirits”. Reed and Nehill, even if indirectly, have followed the path beaten by American projects like sludge metal all-female choir Assembly of Light or doom-black metal project Ragana that were in the circles around bands such as The Body or Thou and that brought new impulses and experimentation to extreme music.

The latest album Systemic is opened by a droning harmonium in ‘Want’ and followed by mournful whistles in ‘Blood Quantum’ paired with towering guitar and lurching drumming. The harpsichord, a Renaissance instrument from the age of great European colonial expansion, enters in the middle of the song, only to be crushed by sledgehammer riffs. Lava-like tempos only briefly switch to thundering blast beats in ‘Simulacra’ but then return to a slowly unfolding passage. Systemic seems to be more open than the group’s previous releases to passages of orchestral beauty and the joys of quietude, as in ‘Indignation’ or closing track ‘Desire’. The message of humanity and hope that the decolonisation doom of Divide and Dissolve carries grows in strength with their work’s consistency and volume. In that sense, Systemic is no less devastating and uplifting.