ALBUM REVIEW: Gespenst – Dogma (2014)

coverBy Ryan Smith


I have stated, on many occasions, my love for instrumental music and its ability to paint with a broader emotional palette than most music with lyrics are capable of. It’s hard to find good instrumental groups that actually know how to capture an audience using a language beyond that of words… but they are out there. Amidst this selection of instrumental wonders shines an especially brilliant star — a post-rock duo from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia known as Gespenst.

With Dogma, their second album, Gespenst (Syahmi Rawi and Zuhair Rawi) unleashes an instrumental leviathan that is one part post-rock, one part heavy metal, one part minimalist masterpiece, and one part transcendental triumph. On this big, beautiful bastard of an album, Rawi and Rawi wield both dream and nightmare, allowing the listener just enough of each to paint the ultimate vision of some dark and majestic otherworld.

Dogma opens with “Grace,” a wondrous exercise in rhythm and etherics. It begins innocently enough with a simple and mesmerising bit of electronics, with minimalist melodies breezing along in the background. Halfway through, we get a hint of the juggernaut of a rhythm that is lurking just below the surface. When it finally does, we’re talking majorly gripping. The massive rhythm falls away and allows for a brief chant before the album proper begins.

The title track is as stunningly and savagely triumphant as “Grace” is subtle. Steady and grippingly powerful drums bed soaring guitar that is swiftly paired with yet more guitar noise creating that wall that should appeal to shoegaze and noise rock listeners. The epic riffing begins shortly thereafter, giving up only to introduce the next wall of guitars. Eventually though, an acoustic bit is introduced as an airy bit of minimalism builds us up for the composition’s beautiful climax. It’s hard to get more triumphant than this in such a laid back medium so this alone screams praise.

Gespenst.

Gespenst.

“Cerca Trova” brings world music and orchestral rhythm together, providing an intriguing base for strategically subdued guitar play. After the six-minute mark, the track opens up to a punky rock jam but never looses its cinematic gloom. The track ends with piano and orchestra section. Never before have I heard such grandeur mixed so naturally with such minimalism. The album oozes with organic structure, but is just as littered with static and noise. Off hand, I can’t really think of a better musical metaphor for an Earth populated by humans.

“Immortal” is a sprawling vista of melancholy. It, more so than any of the other tracks, marries the band’s thrilling rhythms and dynamic and ethereal atmospherics with lashing, almost plaintive guitar. The reverb heavy piano that starts “Rebirth” is simply breathtaking when paired with a sombre string arrangement. Near the two-minute mark, even this falls away to a gorgeously innocent bit of guitar. Out of nowhere, after the halfway point, the wall of guitars soothingly creeps in, with orchestral sails that carry it to places most even remotely aggressive music only dream of. The stunning intro motif returns for another glorious run that underlines the fragile but constant strength that can be found in hope, and its ability to shine through chaos.

“Everything Ends” provides Dogma with a grinding dirge of a coda, where precious minimalist piano play is all but overpowered by powerful orchestral gloom and distortion. A marching rhythm picks up and carries us to an oddly uplifting climax that leaves us alone with wistfully sombre piano that is brilliantly fringed with hints of distortion.

Dogma is a two-sided coin whose two faces both compliment and contradict one another. To describe the album in one word would summon that words opposite as well. For instance, if one were to use the term ‘dark,’ it would be an accurate description, but the record has its fair share of light as well. In fact, during its darkest parts, one’s mind seems to summon light, while darkness mills about in its brightest pastures. There are stars in the night sky and snakes in the green grass.

I took my time reviewing this beast (beauty), knowing my words would not be enough. Bravo, gentlemen.


RYAN SMITH spends a great deal of his time under troll bridges shaking his fist and hollering obscenities at the mainstream, but occasionally finds himself on the side of a pop act that the underground has disowned. A schizoid fan for the 21st century? Although he has a diverse musical taste that runs the gamut from black metal to country to most forms of jazz, Ryan’s first love will always be progressive music.