Disemballerina ~ Poison Gown

Poison GownWhen we last reviewed Portland, Oregon’s chamber metal trio Disemballerina, we concentrated on the politics of art and the blurring of gender.  This time out, the band seems to want fans to concentrate on its music.  This is a welcome development at the right time in the band’s history, as it removes all extraneous features to concentrate on the emotional core.  Not so the physical album, which is embroidered with human hair; the band remembers from whence it came, and preserves a gothic sensibility in its presentation.  Such can also be gleaned from the cover art, in which doll hands stretch toward the heavens while a velvet gown lies draped in the foreground.  This gown refers to an assassination attempt on Queen Elizabeth I, as portrayed in the 1998 film Elizabeth: a deadly dress decorated with arsenic.  History is filled with such unusual (and occasionally successful) assaults, from smallpox blankets to exploding cigars, but this one may well have been a fanciful fiction.  Still, the story remains compelling, and it’s a fine basis for a theatrical recreation.

The sound of Disemballerina is now stretching in the direction of 3epkano, and we feel that it may be the perfect sound with which to score silent films.  The sense of drama is intact, as is the clear pacing, with deliberate highs and lows.  The courtly center of “La Folia” is the most Elizabethan segment, but the whole unfolds like a curtained plot.  The album’s highest peak arrives in “That Is The Head Of One Who Toyed With My Honor”, which features a (credited) machete as an instrument and a culminating cello line reminiscent of Fingathing’s Big Monsters Crush Cities.  The next peak is withheld until the close of the penultimate track, “Year of the Horse”, demonstrating the band’s mastery of restraint.  At half an hour, Poison Gown is not a long album, so the wait is not as long as it seems.  But at no point does the set seem staid; something is always lurking, always bubbling, always threatening to undo, with uncapped vial and unsheathed sword.

At this point, the band’s metal pedigree has almost disappeared, sublimated by a new maturity.  The only exception is the rather obvious price of $6.66 for the digital copy.  We think the trio is better than this and recommend a solid $6.50 or $7.  This isn’t devil music; this isn’t gender music; this is alluring chamber rock, with cello, viola, harp and guitar, without a single drum.  The unique setup deserves to be heard without gimmicks or associations.  Disemballerina is the rare band with a signature sound, and needs to start thinking of itself as bigger than its self-assigned niche.  Portland, OR is too small a playground for a trio with this big a sound.  (Richard Allen)

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