Dawa Drolma- XI MMXIII

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As I mentioned in my last post, most of my prior reviews here have focused on fairly mainstream releases (as much as there is a “mainstream” in extreme metal). I thought I’d start to redress that balance by highlighting the latest, extremely limited release from an artist I’ve had the good fortune to become acquainted with in recent weeks: Portland, Oregon musician Zareen Katherine Price.

Working under the pseudonym Dawa Drolma, Price has unleashed a slew of splits, demos and EPs over the past year. Mostly released on extremely small runs of cassette tapes (though also available via Bandcamp), these projects have covered a wide swath of the extreme musical spectrum, while also incorporating more reflective, melodic influences; the pensive acoustic collection Chasms, under the project name Complin, is one of my favourites in the latter vein.

With the latest entry in her MMXIII series of cassettes, though, Price focuses more on crushing listeners under foot. XI showcases one song each by her heavy projects Gulag (death metal or “war metal”, a genre tag I’m still unsure as to the meaning of) and Cronesmoon (avant-garde black metal). These divergent strands of extremity allow Price to show off her versatility and musical prowess to the fullest (she performs everything bar drums on both pieces). The vocals for each song are perhaps the biggest point of difference: the bottom-of-the-throat growls on Gulag’s “Icosahedral Keys to the Fleshly Gate” and the howling rasp of Cronesmoon’s “Sister Tongues of Rain” are both deployed with equal aplomb. The former employs halting, stop-start dynamics, building up a head of steam through barrelling riffs only to come to a sudden halt, to ratchet up the listener’s unease and tension. Cronesmoon employs similar dynamics when switching between passages, but the focus here is more on high-register tremolo-picked figures, separated by an anxious-sounding bridge about a minute and a half in.

There’s continuity, though, in the lo-fi production on both pieces, which enhances the menacing, dark feeling without descending into unlistenability. The Cronesmoon song is particularly well-done, with raw and stripped-down guitars that are nonetheless much fuller than the thin, needling sound often associated with underground black metal. The elliptical lyrics Price wrote for each song also share the same poetic sensibility. Nothing is spelled out, and nothing needs to be- the point is to draw your own conclusions from enigmatic metaphors like “My word is erased/with spit and stone/Hollowed and cleaned/like an egg emptied of yolk” (“Icosahedral”) and “the sky speaks to me through the earth/rolling her tongues across my skin” (“Sister Tongues of Rain”). As fun as Death Metal English can be at times, it’s refreshing to hear words that revel in ambiguity welded to musical extremity.

XI is just one of the many strong, forward-thinking releases put out under the Dawa Drolma name this year. Even if you’re unable to obtain one of the extremely limited physical copies of this series, I’d urge my readers to at least check it out in digital form, and consider supporting an underground artist who deserves much, much more attention.

Check out the XI MMXIII release here, or visit the Dawa Drolma Bandcamp page to listen to more of Zareen’s work. 

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