Exalt and Despair


Chicago band SELENOPLEXIA navigates the bloodied waters of blackened death through a surging arterial current of post-metal glory.
February 1, 2024

"Exalt and Despair" is the first full-length album from Chicago extreme metal band SELENOPLEXIA. Coming off the heels of their well-received debut EP "Agony" from 2022, "Exalt and Despair" finds the band digging deep into the realms of death metal and black metal, with a (un)healthy dose of post-rock thrown in there for good measure.  According to the band's bio, they mine the lyrical bedrock of "existential abjection and terror," and the fathomless sonic wells bored out by their forefathers.  The album is a no nonsense, dark slab of intense and furiously heavy blackened death.

Courtney Vida's vocals are a withered snarl through sinew-torn lungs. Opener "Bowels of the Earth" shows the band at their most shredded best. Her raspy pleas over the tight and focused rhythm section of bass-player Sawyer Fridel and drummer Jonathan breathe like a northwestern wind howling between Chi-town skyscrapers.  "The hereitic/A herald masked/Emblazoned high/His message left," she screams.  Vida's lyrics deal with the sense of evil that permeates all of our lives, buried slightly below a thinly-veiled public persona.  SELENOPLEXIA is here to rip the skin off your face to reveal the smiling demon beneath.  "Bowels of the Earth" is a straight-up onslaught of blackened death metal, the frenetic dissonance of the outro setting the tone for the rest of the album.

The song bleeds into second track "Lay Waste Our Prayers." None of the songs on this album have beginnings or ends per se; they merge into one another, one's attention being drawn from one open wound to the other.  Her brother Daniel Vida lays down the guitar tracks on the songs, nicely layered pieces of meat that jump out over the punctuated rhythms of Fridel and Jonathan.  "Lay Waste Our Prayers" dabbles with fast, thrash-like riffs and dissonant VOIVOD chords and stop-start rhythms.  The distance sound of a gong echoes through the chaos before the song slows down into a doom-inspired slog through misery. Vida's vocals hang there, phlegm dripping down the few remaining strands of flesh attached to the skull, until the band collapses into third song "A Gilded Rope." There is, perhaps, an intentional construction of tension with these artistic decisions to neither "officially" start or end a song.  It leaves the listener immersed in the experience rather than viewing each song as separate entities unto themselves.  The black metal flurry of "A Gilded Rope" digs the grave for the nameless, as Vida implores Azrael, the Muslim angel of death, for mercy.

For lack of a better description, the album is symmetrical, divided into an A-side and a B-side, and "A Cessation of Reality" closes the door on the first chapter. An ambient hum from reverb-drenched speakers primes the clean guitars of a post-rock song of transition.  If the first half of the album was about externally ridding our bodies of emotional and physical pain, the second half is about filtering those feelings through the center of our minds and consciousness. "Visions of Hell" has some beautiful black metal tremeloes and sweeps of dissonance that conjure up vistas of cold winter nights and fires that aren't hot enough to distract from the frost enveloping our souls. For a song about pain and being led to even deeper levels of pain, "Visions of Hell" is hard to top.

The transition from "Visions of Hell" to the next song "The Albatross Hangs" is a great example of SELENOPLEXIA at their creative best. The former collapses to an ominous keyboard swell, with gentle pangs of glass in the background, as the latter opens with a dissonant bass line that continues as the rest of band explodes with a fury. It's just long enough to suck you in, but not long enough to distract you from the pain.  Vida's vocals go deeper than ever before lifting off into her reverb-drenched screams, and there's even a RUSH-like break before the band drops down into ENSLAVED chords of beauty, drowning the listener in a sea of breath-taking black metal beauty. Arpeggiated clean guitars play the song out over the last two minutes, on top of Jonathan and Fridel's almost jazz-like foundation.  The song continues to grow in intensity, a body rising to the surface of an unforgiving sea, a sacrifice to Satan's inevitable power over all of us.  The strongest song on the album, "The Albatross Hangs" is a wildly creative and tasteful five minutes of metal bliss.

Final song "Void Palace" showcases everything that SELENOPLEXIA does best.  The production on the album is top-notch- drums, guitars, bass, and vocals are all clearly showcased- and all of it is done with an analog feeling of warmth. Clocking in at over ten-minutes, "Void Palace" swerves from blackened inspired death metal before pivoting to a gorgeous monotone cleansing of clean guitars and revisiting those gentle pings of glass. There's a lot of gorgeous post rock here- RUSSIAN CIRCLES, GODSPEED! YOU BLACK EMPEROR, to name a few, keep popping up as they take their time through these passages.  The song ends on a heavy, slow doom-inspired riff.  "Fall to a place where light fears to tread," begs Vida, over the funeral slog. "We fall for eternity."  The descent, as SELENOPLEXIA, wants us to know, is forever.  And if this Chicago quartet keeps turning out well-crafted, beautiful metal like this, that fall will be suitably soundtracked.



8 / 10









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"Exalt and Despair" Track-listing:
  1. Bowels of the Earth
  2. Lay Waste Our Powers
  3. A Gilded Rope
  4. Cessation of Reality
  5. Visions of Hell
  6. The Albatross Hangs
  7. Void Palace
Selenoplexia Lineup:

Sawyer Fridel- Bass

Courtney Vida- Vocals

Jonathan- Drums

Daniel Vida- Guitars

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