Ship of Theseus: still sailing seas of vast microtonal black / doom metal waters

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Jute Gyte, Ship of Theseus, Jeshimoth Entertainment, CDR JES068 (2015)

No sooner did Jute Gyte’s Adam Kalmbach complete the trilogy “Discontinuities”, “Vast Chains” and “Ressentiment” along with various other shorter recordings, some of which I might have missed, than he launched straight into recording “Ship of Theseus”, to judge by the fact that “Ressentiment” was put together from late 2011 to late 2012 and “Ship of Theseus” followed soon after (October 2012 to May 2014). That probably accounts for why “Ship of Theseus” doesn’t seem all that different from “Ressentiment” to my ears though it’s probably a little less accessible than that earlier recording. Like other JG recordings starting with “Discontinuities”, “Ship of Theseus” makes use of the microtonal intervals within semitones of musical scales which give the entire album a very discordant and extreme sound, and expresses Jute Gyte’s dismal view of humanity and its prospects in a mostly indifferent, even hostile universe.

The album’s title refers to a philosophical paradox dating back to the time of the ancient Greeks, during which it was common practice to maintain ships by replacing their timbers as they wore out, prompting the question of whether a ship in which the hero Theseus sailed to Crete to battle the Minotaur and rescue Ariadne was still the same ship once all its parts had been replaced. Another version of this paradox is in the Greek philosopher Heraclitus’ suggestion that a person does not step into the same river twice (because all its constituent units, which we would call atoms, keep replacing themselves). The paradox might be a metaphor for larger questions about the nature of identity, whether it’s derived from atoms or from the structures in which ever-changing atoms are held, and how change affects this identity and a person’s ability to feel sure and secure in the identity s/he has when his/her cells are constantly renewing and replacing themselves. With Jute Gyte’s music based on microtonal equivalents of atoms, and the microtones themselves organised in ways that give them meaning, structure and flow, and allow them as a whole to express angst, dread and hopelessness, the paradox with its implications describes it well.

The music seems lighter than what I expected and it does vary a lot with plenty of emphasis on melody and moments of still ambience. The guitar sounds demented and cacophonic but the melodies and riffs do make sense to me if not to others. The album is best heard as one whole just to get used to the see-saw nature of the sounds and those moments where ambient music reigns solo. There is as much doom and sludge doom here as there is black metal and the music’s pace is slow and leisurely enough for most listeners to keep up with. Songs are jam-packed with riffs and rhythms that either don’t last very long or keep going to the extent that you feel sickened by their nauseous nature.

My impression is that Kalmbach is always in control here – maybe even a little too much so, as there really isn’t anything that I’d call spontaneous – and for all the deranged sounds that make up the music, the organisation and execution seem spot-on and precise, with hardly a tone or tune out of place. The dominant mood is bleak and deadly serious – there’s no space for frivolity or light-heartedness. Jute Gyte has never been easy listening (I confess I still find much of Kalmbach’s work hard to assimilate and understand and I have several recordings) and you either love the music as it is with all the difficulties and esoteric concepts it poses or you leave it.

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