Damascus – Heights

Heights cover art

Artist damascus
Album Heights
Genre Post-Rock | Post-Metal
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Release 10 July 2013
Rating: Very Good

I was rooting for this band to be good when I first started doing research on them simply because they’re from South River New Jersey, which I lived fairly close to for about 10 years.  I tend to research before I even listen to any given release that I’m not already familiar with because I like context. The fact that damascus are from Jersey really has nothing to do with their music, but it gave me a bit of a star to wish on, so to speak, and that star didn’t disappoint me.

The guys in damascus are evidently fluent in quite a few sub genres of post-rock, and I am impressed by the grace with which they slide into different modes, with seemingly no effort.  This is, again, third wave, but has elements of post-metal and even neoclassical as well as the expected peaks and shadows.

Although song lengths here are hardly epic by post-rock standards, damascus uses the average 8 minutes very well throughout “Heights.”  For the most part everything blends quite seamlessly, making the individual tracks actually feel more like movements in a longer work. The downfall that this can sometimes precipitate, in the form of repetitive themes and boredom, is completely avoided here, with always a twist of trail and riff.  The whole album seems to evolve over its span, rather then simply feeling like a deliberate sequence of songs.

The musicianship of this 4 piece is very good. These guys are tight in all the right ways. This makes for a precise execution of musical and tonal ideas, which further solidifies the flow of the entire album. Especially dexterous to my ears is Bassist Edwin Rivera, who adds countermelody and a certain textural definition to “Heights” that really stands out. It’s a joy to hear the bass, at times, take a more up-front roll, without making the band sound like they’re ripping off Tool, like so many others.

The production, done by Drummer Brendan Bianowicz is well suited to the styles involved, and, while not stellar, is solid and satisfying. The mix here is key, and it is on point. The ear of the listener isn’t assaulted, but teased, helping one find more depth and idiosyncrasy with each listen. Guitar tones shift very well. The previously mentioned bass is mixed into just the right pocket to stand out, and it’s tone is organic, yet full, especially considering it’s nimbleness. Drums are solid and grounded, while cymbals dance in the stereo spectrum at just the right intensity for the band’s sound. If any of this were overdone, it would likely have wrecked the entire endeavor.

In this, Bianowicz shows restraint and self-discipline that many people who play an instrument and produce oftentimes disregard in favor of showcasing their preferred instrument or device. When this happens, it infuriates me to no end, so my compliment is one of gratitude as well as commendation.

With a previous full length and two EP’s, one of which being a more ambient reworking of some of their earlier songs, these fellows are doing a yeoman’s job at putting out solid, slightly progressive, and very enjoyable post-rock. Most of their music is “pay what you want” on bandcamp, which shows they desire your patronship more then your dollar (although the music is, to my mind, charge worthy, which is another rare statement for me to make) there is every reason to check out both “Heights,” and their back catalogue. They do play live, and I would be guessing that it would quite a treat to hear them in that sort of environment.

I suppose I have two questions remaining about damascus and “Heights.” Who played the keys at the beginning of “Come to Light,” and why hasn’t a decent small imprint or label gotten in touch with them? I know I would be proud to say I backed the release of something like “Heights.”