This is the sound of war, insensate misanthropy unleashed, revenge, sorrow, triumph, madness. Weakling is, to me, the apex of American black metal. Towering, orchestral melodies float from dark corners of abandoned cathedrals. Searing and utterly unique riffs saw off bits of your being until only the music is left. Black metal doesn't usually evoke a wide emotional response, but the tremendous, sprawling and exhausting compositions herein will draw out a full array of passions.
Conceived in 1998 but released in 2000 with limited distribution, Dead as Dreams would be Weakling's sole recorded output. Legends grew around the CD's obscure origins, including fictional tales of treasure maps that would lead to buried copies of the album. Born of the twisted minds of John Gossard and Joshua Smith (of The Fucking Champs), Dead as Dreams is made perfect by a unique convocation of musicians.
Dead as Dreams unfolds over five elongated tracks. These songs move in a myriad of meters, unfurling teeming riffs that gallop with the thunder of an infinite cavalry. Dead as Dreams features my favorite use of keyboards on any metal album. Casey Ward's augmentative accents are never intrusive, insinuating diaphanous tendrils of melody into the engulfing atmosphere. Every one of these protracted compositions is packed with compelling twists, turns and revelatory crescendos of majestic guitar mastery. The synergistic creativity of John Gossard and Joshua Smith is a rare wonder to behold.
The feedback-borne intro to the title track is a singular, essential metal moment. Once you hear these melancholic melodies, you'll never forget them. The drums pick up the pace of the brooding theme, showcasing Sam Foster's absolute percussive genius. You know what's coming, you can feel it build. There's a brief pause before one of the most sublime musical phrases you'll ever here, and it's merely a stepping stone. The soaring melody is cashed in for a crushing wave of distortion, turning loose a phantasmagorical parade of transcendent riffs.
John Gossard's eccentric vocal performance is an essential ingredient in this masterful concoction. Each song features only a bare minimum of actual lyrics; the remaining space is filled out with rambling and demented cachinnations. Incoherent mutterings, grunts, gurgles and screams are delivered with startling conviction, conveying waves of anguished emotion. This isn't weary, woe-is-me downerism, but the wretched cries of ruined lives, shattered corpses, and tortured prisoners of war.
The production on Dead as Dreams is superlative, nailing a perfect balance of guitars, drums, keys and vocals. The guitars sport a buzzing, meaty and instantly recognizable tone. The bass is a bit buried at times, but the album's extensive dynamics give Sarah Weiner plenty of moments to shine.
Even after years of spinning this beast of an album, it still delivers the same rush of adrenaline, the same desire to rage, the same crushing melancholy. Weakling's lasting legacy is a 76 minute departure from reality. Black metal purists will debate its merits, as well as its place in the history of the genre. For me, there's no argument; Dead as Dreams is on my short list of desert island albums.