I was completely blindsided by this second release from unlikely collaborators Machinefabriek and Dead Neanderthals, as Smelter transcends the sum of its parts in absolutely crushing fashion. Anyone familiar with Dead Neanderthals' explosive blend of extreme metal and free jazz will be unsurprised by the heaviness of this album, yet this is something new and different, taking Rutger Zuyderveldt's nuanced drone aesthetic and blowing it up into a scorched and seismic force of nature. While it admittedly derails into an occasional lull at times, such moments are short-lived and easily forgotten in the face of such a viscerally howling onslaught of blackened sludge. At its best, Smelter feels like being bulldozed by a glacier that was shaken loose by a torrent of smoking and bubbling lava.
The album opens in deceptively subdued fashion, as a lazily spacey one-finger synth melody erratically unfolds over a backdrop of eerily spectral whistling sounds and brooding dark ambient textures.It is not quite exactly what I would expect from a drone artist meeting an extreme metal duo, but it is certainly close (Dead Neanderthal have certainly been known to dabble in some deep space ambience in the past).I felt like I could l see where the things were headed, so I settled in for an entire album in that vein.Consequently, it felt like a goddamn building just dropped on my head when Smelter suddenly erupted into a dense and churning floe of blown-out synth buzz and impressively violent slow-motion drumming from Ren√© Aquarius.Obviously, Aquarius has proven himself to be quite adept at hyperkinetic freeform drumming pyrotechnics in the past, but his objective here seems to be trying to shatter his cymbals with the sheer brutality of his slow-motion doom attack.Initially, it feels like DNMF might ride that massive distorted drone into infinity (which would be just fine by me), but it soon opens up into a majestic vista of epic-sounding chord changes curdled by a gnarled morass of ugly harmonies.Later, some unexpectedly beautiful and nuanced shades of glimmering color creep into relentless death march of scorched sludge, but Smelter remains an unpredictable and relentlessly lurching monster of a piece, as the only thing that remains constant is the slow and merciless crunch of Aquarius's punishing drumming.
Of course, the problem with starting off a 40-minute piece in such gloriously massive and brutal fashion is trying to figure out where the piece can possibly go from there.That is where Smelter's brilliance starts to wear away a little: the first 15 minutes sound like a massive, burning oil tanker, so it is unavoidably anticlimactic when that section gives way to a hallucinatory interlude of Otto Kokke's blearily twisting synth burbles over a grinding and rumbling backdrop of murky drones.The piece soon roars back to life, but it now feels more like a composition than an apocalyptic natural event, as sustained synth chords give the piece the bombastic feel of symphonic black metal.To my ears, that seems like a bit of a misstep, yet DNMF compensate somewhat by escalating the gnarled and corroded horror erupting from the underlying drones.That is quite a cool trick, as it feels like Smelter is desperately trying to head in a more lumbering and predictable direction, yet is instead getting ripped apart from the inside.Entropy ultimately wins, thankfully, and the piece collapses into a smoldering wreckage of howling noise.DNMF have one final trick, however, so the scorched-earth wake of Smelter's metal phase slowly evolves into a haunting new soundscape built from scraping pulses of white noise and ghostly, floating dissonance.That too transforms, however, and the album ends with an unexpectedly sublime coda of spectral choral voices arising from a ravaged and broken miasma of throbbing synths and lingering wisps of grinding dissonance.
My sole critique of Smelter is that I am exasperated by how close it came to being one of the best albums of the year, as this trio achieved an absolutely transcendent degree of heaviness with their opening salvo.I definitely did not see this album coming, as I had never imagined that Machinefabriek could be so violent and explosive, nor did I expect Dead Neanderthals to take a break from their more kinetic and virtuosic tendencies to unleash a creeping and engulfing drone avalanche.While Smelter admittedly has some imperfections, it was clearly birthed from a period of white-hot inspiration, as it begins and ends brilliantly.At its best, Smelter is a legitimately apocalyptic piece of work, as well as a sublimely gorgeous one: DNMF are just as adept at straining towards heaven as they are at plunging deep into a hellscape of gnarled and corroded ruin.It is quite remarkable for an album to do both so beautifully and even more so when the transition between those two poles feels so organic and well-earned.Given that, I do not particularly mind the brief leaden lull in Smelter's mid-section, as it is a necessary part of a tour de force transformation from an ugly, shambling juggernaut of pure heaviness to an absolutely gorgeous and dreamlike soundscape.Both Dead Neanderthals and (especially) Rutger Zuyderveldt have quite overwhelmingly voluminous discographies, but I feel quite comfortable in stating that Smelter is one of the most singular and striking works that either have ever produced.This is a legitimately significant and awe-inspiring release.