When you say you studied psychology, you get mixed reactions. Some people think you learn to treat mental illness (that’s mental health nursing and counselling), some picture white coats and weird, unethical experiments (actually pretty close) while others genuinely think you learn to read their body language and minds (that’s magicians and charlatans). Considering how interesting all of these options sound, the truth is disappointing and boring. In fact, personality and abnormal psychology was one of my least favourite classes. Along with psycholinguistics. Yuk.
But in this class, I did learn about the three personality traits that, when combined like the Power Rangers, form the “dark triad”: psychopathy, Machiavellianism and narcissism. Scoring highly on one of these indicates a less social or empathetic side. Score high on all three and you’re basically Jeff Bezos levels of evil. That’s the theory anyway.
The truth is far more complex, detailed and messy. We put concepts in neat boxes with nice labels because the world is complex and we are just big-brained apes. All personality traits we are familiar with are ethnocentric and contentious. Even the well-known and popular Big Five are consistently under academic scrutiny because of the gaping holes in the research and model. The dark triad themselves are often argued to just be measuring the same thing.
Needless to say, I have my reservations about personality testing and personality psychology in general. That being said, I do think it’s a worthwhile area of study. The field has had a tremendous cultural, as well academic impact. Take criminal profiling for example. Personality psychology has also brought forth a number of commercial successes as businesses try to use personality tests to filter out “bad” employees. Oh, also, without it we would not have the concept for the debut album by Epiphanic Truth: ‘Dark Triad: Bitter Psalms To A Sordid Species‘.
Epiphanic Truth decided to use their debut album to explore the concept of the dark triad through the lens of postmodern philosophy, primarily, as far as I can tell, Jean Baudrillard. This is an interesting concept when you consider the contentious nature of personality traits and that Baudrillard was of the opinion that our constant search for meaning combined with our self-referentiality results in a hyperreality where meaning itself is contentious and elusive.
All this to say, I really dig this album’s concept. And despite all this talk of postmodernism and psychology, I am but a simple man. Give me a 45 minute album comprised of three tracks and tell me it’s inspired by Esoteric, Akercoke and Oranssi Pazuzu and I’m putty in your hands.
In the hands of anyone else, such a wide range of styles and influences would result in a messy and unfocused collection of song parts. This is far from a mess. Although they remain anonymous, it’s clear we are dealing with masters of their craft.
An example of this is the structure of the songs. Instead of a segue to the next section in a traditional song structure (think a pre-chorus), Epiphanic Truth flesh out these sections and fully own them. I appreciate the idea of traditional song structures went out the window when I said “a 45 minute album comprised of three tracks”, but hear me out.
Amid the standard tremolo leads and blastbeats of the black metal that Epiphanic Truth repeatedly return to, we don’t just get a slow breakdown to move the song along, we get four minutes of classic hypnotic Finnish doom.
Album opener ‘The Truth of The Beast‘ shows us this relatively early on with a doomy section placed before we are hit with smooth yet ominous jazz. The slower paced section could have been a two-bar transition but instead it was stretched out and make the change to the jazzy section a lot more subtle, and in turn the ambience to end the track makes far more sense having been preceded in this way.
And we’re back to Baudrillard again. This time the idea that our understanding of and definitions for things are informed by the meanings of other objects around us. This is one of the reasons I called Epiphanic Truth masters of their craft: this understanding of time as music’s canvas provides the knowledge to put together passages such as this.
The album is split into three tracks but it’s a single entity, broken into three movements for thematic purposes. A strong use of repeated motifs throughout ties it all together, and the riffs hook you in an almost literal sense.
For example the barbs of the opening riff on second track ‘An Inescapable Verdict‘ pull you in and drive you forward through the distorted spoken work and into a bass-driven section. Talking about bass, the bass tone is very fitting. At times it seems to growl at you, such as in the slower, gradually building section near the middle of this second track.
It’s clear that throughout this album, Epiphanic Truth are looking to conjure a specific atmosphere for or feeling in the listener and have the versatility to pull it off using a variety of instruments and approaches, as well as the vocal contrast of the deeper growl and higher cleans.
You’ll hear jazz, as mentioned, but also saxaphone and keyboards leading you through a middle-eastern inspired section, organs in various places and what sounds like it may be a lap guitar or zither elsewhere. Or, maybe I’m hearing things wrong and just don’t know enough about what a talented guitarist can get out of their instrument. Either way the versatility on display allows the band to consistently hit their mark and bring the listener along with the mood being created.
We perceive the internet as a new frontier, the latest & most effective advancement for propaganda – whether it propagates demonstrable reality or whether it proliferates pure fantasy. To us, these muddied waters seemingly benefit whoever is willing to lie the most brazenly.
— Epiphanic Truth (@epiphanictruth) May 18, 2021
While you can hear the varied influences that have been called upon throughout, defining ‘Dark Triad…‘ feels futile. Genres are simple but music generally, and this music specifically, is complex. The map is not the territory. What I can say is that for my own tastes and preferences, this record is near-perfect.
Near perfect. I do have a criticism though. If you have a section that lasts for 64 bars and eventually leads to something, I need some inclination that it does actually lead to something. What I’m saying is that some sections seem long for the sake of it. This doesn’t put me off because I’m a glutton for this and my threshold for anticipation is very high. But if you come for the black metal and stay for the doom, this is the sort of thing that may put you off.
In terms of criticism, that’s basically it. If you’re not put off by a 22-minute album closer then you’re probably not going to be put off by the occasional meandering section.
I can’t imagine a stronger debut coming out this year than ‘Dark Triad…‘, but I am confident that this is far from the first (or even third) album that the anonymous members of Epiphanic Truth have put out with bands elsewhere.
By questioning how modern and near-future technology has the potential for negative effects when you understand the proliferation of dark triad traits in the modern tech company boardroom, this record already stands head and shoulders above any contemporaries.
If this theme was missing, I would still love and recommend this record widely. I would have just had to miss out the 500 words on postmodernism and psychology.
‘Dark Triad: Bitter Psalms To A Sordid Species’ by Epiphanic Truth is out on 21st May through Church Road Records. You can pre-order it here.