Dead Skeletons: A Spiritual Battle Song
It shouldn't be all that surprising that music with bared teeth and a white-knuckle grip, music that's loud and sharp and barbed, isn't written to communicate a fundamental joy with life. More often than not, the darkest sounds are born in the darkest part of the artist's mind; they're missives for the miserable, the desperately cathartic or the petulant and proud. So it's jarring when the Icelandic band Dead Skeletons' "Dead Mantra" — described by member Jón "Nonni Dead" Sæmundur as "a spiritual battle song" — all but forces listeners to smile elatedly.
First composed and uploaded to YouTube four years ago and re-released along with a full-length album this past fall, "Dead Mantra" begins with a whine of guitar and a timid drumbeat before ascending into a massive wall of ambient whirs, malevolent two-stepping bass, tremulous riffs and a far-away spinal cord of terse and playful drums. More than eight and a half minutes long, the song furiously sprints through psychedelics, refrains and long sections of meditative repetition — always returning to the core sentiment that "he who fears death cannot enjoy life," monotonically repeated in Icelandic, German and English. The sounds and the sentiment line up perpendicularly to each other, carving a space of cognitive dissonance that's at once confusing, comforting and hair-raising.
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