Oneirogen: Plenitude
Denovali Records

It seems like only yesterday that NY-based composer Mario Diaz de Leon issued The Soul is the Arena, a collection of three bold contemporary classical works. But as those acquainted with Diaz de Leon's work well know, he also issues material of a dramatically different kind under the Oneirogen (o-NI-ro-jen) name. Plenitude, an EP-length, five-track prelude to an upcoming full-length, perpetuates the uncompromising sound design first explored on 2012's Hypnos and then a year later on Kiasma. In the two years since its release, Diaz de Leon has further developed the project's sound via live appearances in NYC's underground metal and experimental scenes.

The music's overall intensity doesn't declare itself immediately, as “Oxygen” inaugurates the EP with three minutes of restrained keyboard chords and slow-building ambient atmosphere. “Collapsing,” on the other hand, wastes little time at all in laying out its doom-laden soundworld when seething synth riffs and hammering salvos of percussion set the nightmarish scene and Diaz de Leon's vocals—reminiscent of early Nine Inch nails, the words are more screamed than sung—plunge it into a caustic doom-metal zone. And with the singing so heavily distorted, one turns to the package's inner sleeve to review lyrics rendered indecipherable by their delivery. Though it might seem hard to imagine, “Vessel” is heavier still, with the roar of the singing matched by the brutalizing instrumental design. The title track, thankfully, offers a welcome respite from such intensity in augmenting softly whispered vocals with a glacial synth backdrop, after which “Emergence,” in a nice framing gesture, echoes the instrumental design of the opener in unleashing a vibrant array of declamatory synth statements and portentous bass throbs.

By no means is The Soul is the Arena an ambient-classical collection, but however aggressive it might be, it pales in comparison to Plenitude on that count and furthermore suggests that Diaz de Leon was wise in releasing the former under his birth name and the latter under the Oneirogen alias. Everything on the twenty-two-minute EP intimates that the full-length, whenever it appears, will be a heavy ride indeed.

November 2015