The Aging Man

I first heard “The Aging Man” by The Great Discord in 2016 while working nights as a sysadmin babysitting a small server farm.

Click this image to watch on YouTube…

The accoustic intro starting with rain and a piano with a bass guitar coming in didn’t prepare me for the onslaught that came with contralto Fia Kempe’s vocals. And being an aging man (or at least a somewhat masculine enby) myself, the lyrics hit home as well.

It's guiding my end
Leave me, I like
The quiet, the calm
Good wishes leave me cold

So, let me be
(The) Time I have left
I'll spend alone,
Down in the darkness

I highly recommend the rest of their album, Duende, but good luck getting a copy on CD.

Duende Lives Up to Its Name

The name of The Great Discord’s 2015 debut album, Duende, suggests that not only does this Swedish metal act from Linkoping have soul, but chutzpah to match. Contralto vocalist Fia Kempe’s passionate delivery makes this album a must-have for fans of woman-fronted metal.

Table of Contents

Detailed Review

I discovered Swedish progressive metal act The Great Discord’s Duende album just after Christmas courtesy of a Spotify Discover Weekly playlist that included a radio edit of “The Aging Man” that starts with alto Fia Kempe belting out lyrics that sound like:

Guiding my end
Leave me, I like
The quiet, the calm
Good wishes leave me cold

So, let me be
The time I have left
I'll spend alone
Down in the darkness

The rhythm with which Ms. Kempe sings this refrain is driving and catchy, but “The Aging Man” is far more effective if you listen to the full-length studio version instead of the radio edit, which includes an instrumental introduction beginning with a low-key piano that switches to bass, and then introduces the guitars and drums while becoming more urgent all the while.

The rest of the album proceeds in similar fashion, with Ms. Kempe belting out lyrics pertaining to “the mundane as well as the extremes of what you as a person potentially live with”. Because she’s exploring the darker corners and extremes of the human experience, her alto voice is perfectly suited to the material whereas the higher and sometimes sweeter tones of the sopranos more common in woman-fronted metal bands might not work as well.

Fortunately, Fia Kempe’s vocals aren’t the only reason to listen to The Great Discord. Ms. Kempe is also a skilled pianist (which reminds me of one of my characters), and the paired guitars of André Axell and Gustav Almberg along with Rasmus Carlson’s bass provide a rich, sound throughout the album. This is a band equally suited to fast-paced songs like “L’homme Mauvais” and slower selections like “Woes”.

Because of these qualities, Duende can be said to possess its namesake quality. It’s a soulful album as well as a technically excellent one. If heavy metal were to combine with film noir, I suspect the result would closely resemble this album. However, despite several members claiming Genesis and King Crimson as influences, I think that Duende also bears a slight semblance to Opeth’s 2003 album Damnation.

Now I’d love to see The Great Discord cover “Hope Leaves”.

Click this image to watch on YouTube…

If Duende can be said to possess a particular flaw, it’s that Ms. Kempe’s lyrics can be difficult to discern in songs like “Deus Ex Homine” and “Eigengrau” despite repeated listening with good-quality headphones. I don’t think the production is the issue; the self-produced album has a clean mix and a wide dynamic range given the state of the Loudness Wars. Nor can Ms. Kempe’s articulation be blamed without doing the lady an injustice.

Maybe it’s because I’m old enough for “The Aging Man” to resonate, but I’m not so old yet that I can’t appreciate an excellent progressive metal album like Duende. It’s just easier to understand the lyrics when I have them on paper.

Videos

If you aren’t convinced yet, Metal Blade Records has provided some official videos from The Great Discord’s Duende.

“The Aging Man”

Click this image to watch on YouTube…

“The Aging Man” (Accoustic)

Click this image to watch on YouTube…

“Eigengrau”

Click this image to watch on YouTube…

Trivia

Not only is “duende” the kind of soul genuinely good art can be said to have, but fairy-like spirits called “duende” also figure prominently in Iberian (Spanish and Portugese), Latin American, and Filipino folklore.

Eigengrau is a color. The name translate from German as “intrinsic gray”; it’s the color the human eye sees in the complete absence of light and contrast. Its hexadecimal value is #16161d. It’s actually lighter than pure black (hex value #000000). Apparently the night sky away from cities looks darker than eigengrau because of the contrast provided by stars.