Album Review: The Body & Dis Fig – ‘Orchards of a Futile Heaven’: One extraordinary partnership delivers an experimental doom statement piece.

The Breakdown

Music that reaches the echelons of ‘heavy’ expressionism and a voice made to navigate every deepening cavern of The Body’s cathartic metal soundscape.
Thrill Jockey 9.0

For seminal Portland doom metal duo The Body, co-working with other musicians has long been part of their modus, ensuring their music never stands still. Alongside the influential releases carrying ‘The Body’ nameplate, Chip King (guitars etc) and Lee Buford (drums etc) have unleashed around fifteen collaborative albums since 2011. Recently these efforts have diverged from the mega-metal, heavy lifting combinations with Thou or Full of Hell to more surprising but no less winning combinations. The dynamic folk song explorations with BIG I BRAVE on ‘Leaving None But Small Birds’ in 2021 was stunning in its earthy restraint while 2022’s link up with OAA on ‘Enemy Of Love’ powerfully forged their drum/guitar obliterations with industrial electronic mayhem.

Now the release of the ‘Orchards of a Futile Heaven’ album via Thrill Jockey sees The Body locked in another intense creative partnership with Berlin based producer, vocalist and experimental artist Dis Fig (aka Felicia Chen). An explorer of graphic inner tension and performative pain Chen first shook wider attention with her 2019 debut ‘Purge’. It’s that scouring interpretation of distortion and noise that she brings to this new collaboration. Her intense vocal personality, cutting from screamed aggression to soothing dream tones in an instant, also embeds a distinctive focal point to ‘Orchards of a Futile Heaven’. It’s a voice made to navigate every deepening cavern of The Body’s cathartic metal soundscape.

Opening cut Eternal Hours sees the full force of the Dis Fig/Body zeitgeist crank itself up through the dynamic gears. For starters the song’s core loop ratchets through electronic whip cracks, stammering vocal snatches and Buford’s stark lurching drum pattern. As the rhythmic cogs multiply and Chip King’s jagged monotone drones, the music seems poised…then…three tom beats and bang. Chen’s banshee wail rips in, central to the next loop that heaves the track to its siren squealing close.

If anything the doom core intensity increases on To Walk A Higher Path, which pivots around a shamanistic chant and earth ravaging bass note to mark the processional time. It’s a song that maintains a steady momentum. Amidst the vortex level distortion The Body and Dis Fig never get bogged down and their narrative unfolds with a breath-taking clarity. As the strands of emotive vocal pleas from Dis Fig seep through, demanding a someone/something to “walk with me” or “meet with us”, you recognise that this dramatic music has an intended destination.

In some ways ‘Orchards of a Futile Heaven’ appears to build on The Body’s interest in the epic folk song that they explored during their BIG I BRAVE collaboration. Holy Lance slopes along ominously to the bodily groans of Chen’s accordion and her brooding dramatic voice before ripping into otherworldly chords and gaping guitar fissures. As tiny snips of bird song drift into the close, you feel as if the power ballad has been reclaimed right here. The title track feels similarly shrouded in darker folklore and some sense of mythical ceremony. Ritual drums pound gravely amongst the proximal hisses and ear hollowing screams before the gates open. Then, as if bound inside some darkwave jig, Dis Fig’s vocal aches with distress while the beat pulses on.

You soon realise, as the album progresses, that any black-metal/hyper-gothic assumptions which could be thrown at this recording are essentially superficial. ‘Orchards Of A Futile Heaven’ is not simply a soundtrack from the other side. Dis Fig maps out internal tensions here, personal demons are being exorcised with honesty and real connection. Engaging with such risk-taking leaves the listener with much the same unsettling uplift as Gazelle Twin’s revelatory ‘Black Dog’ from last year. The vicious electronic beats and Chen’s monastic vocal poise on Dissent/Shame only goes to justify such comparisons.

That’s not to say either that this album is riddled with derivatives. Dis Fig’s singular performance developed within The Body’s dynamically responsive maelstrom takes on a life that’s very much its own. The pivotal anthemic Coils Of Kaa rams home this point as it grips tighter and tighter from a pressurised mechanical chug to stamping pneumatic march. As the swirling power-chorded epicentre engulfs Dis Fig’s final curdling cries, the toxicity explodes in a moment of pure electric nirvana.

While talking about this latest collaboration Lee Buford has confessed “I always wanted the heavier stuff but I also didn’t really like heavier guitar music.” Well ‘Orchards of a Futile Heaven’ is proof that The Body have been inspired to move beyond Metal’s rock heritage and, through the partnership with Felicia Chen, realise music that reaches the Sunn O))) echelons of ‘heavy’ expressionism. For Dis Fig the collaboration was similarly affecting. Speaking about the project she recognises “ You could never connect to just a machine as well as you could a human. Which is why the combination is so potent for me. I don’t want to hide”. Listen to ‘Orchards Of A Futile Heaven’ and you’ll hear just what such artistic provocation sounds like…it’s extraordinary.

Get your copy of ‘Orchards of a Futile Heaven‘ by The Body & Dis Fig from your local record store or direct from Thrill Jockey HERE

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