Dool – The Shape of Fluidity


Dutch quintet, Dool, are the great hope for the future of rock in the Netherlands. Critics and industry insiders in their country want them to succeed on the international stage as a band that can headline a future Coachella, dazzle the New York tastemakers, and stand out at ArcTanGent. At the centre of the story is vocalist and guitarist, Raven van Dorst, who arrived from the womb as an intersex baby (e.g. their genitals might not match their reproductive organs, or they may have features and traits of both sexes) and led most of their life as a female. Uncomfortable with the idea that doctors decided their gender, van Dorst reclaimed their hermaphroditic identity as an adult. The Shape of Fluidity is an obvious metaphor for the realisation of this transformation, but it also represents the constant uprooting of life as an evolving force that challenges who we are, what we are, and how we live. In the words of van Dorst, this album is a question of how to “make peace with chaos and impermanence.”

The backstory will guarantee Dool coverage in The Guardian, The New York Times and on university campuses looking for new icons to challenge the white male patriarchy, but the duty of a music reviewer is to see past the hype and analyse the art. Is it worthy of the acclaim, or is it just another example of politically correct music critics trying to force their manifesto on apathetic listeners?

Dool approach this record as if they have the pretentious music establishment behind them. A pendulous two-chord progression in opener, ‘Venus in Flames’, sets the scene for Raven van Dorst’s voice to warm up in a Brian Molko tone before the thunderous drums and distorted guitars enter at 01:08. There’s a latent sense of dread underneath the pulse of this song. The vocals are the most important aspect of the music, which means that the guitars are content to strum their chords and explore the minimalist sound possibilities further up the fretboard. On balance, van Dorst’s voice lies somewhere between Cher and Jonah Matranga of Far. The aim here is to build tension and relieve it with a climax, but seven minutes is a bit ambitious for a song that shies away from exquisite musicianship in favour of sustained emotional pleading. 

Musically, ‘Self-Dissect’ is stronger than the opening song, with its fuzzy guitars and Phrygian motifs creating a more sensual offering. Dool show a good understanding of rock dynamics with settled and animated passages co-habiting as uneasily as a pimp and his harlot. The only things missing from this composition are memorable riffs. Fortunately, this is not a problem in the title-track, where they give us a sludgy prog rock riff worthy of Mastodon as the main hook. Listen how the bass creeps up on you in chromatic formation like a stalker. Van Dorst’s spacing between the words in the bridge is impressive. The angst-ridden tenor range in the chorus is excellent. But does this effort need to be longer than six minutes? You wonder if a guest appearance from Daniel Tompkins (Tesseract) or Asger Mygind (VOLA) would be ideal for a reworking of this song as a one-off single, like Placebo and David Bowie’s collaboration for ‘Without You, I’m Nothing’ in 1998.

So, what are the strengths of Dool’s overhyped music? There’s no doubt that it encourages you to stand up against the oppressive forces that try to paralyse you into a state of inertia. But is that not what rock music should do?  ‘Evil in You’ presents many emotional obstacles but overcoming them is the objective – if you look like a hero at the end of it, then, that’s a bonus. You can hear the Sisters of Mercy influence in the chorus, although there’s no parody of melodrama here. The 3/4 drum rhythm adds to the simmering tension. Clearly, Dool are not afraid to ramp up the heavier side of rock when the mood demands it. A doom metal riff in ‘Hermagorgon’ drags its chains like a prisoner limping to the front of the canteen after twenty days in solitary confinement. The guitarists step back to allow van Horst’s voice room to breathe in the verses before the riff re-appears at the end of the chorus.  Listen to the ghost-noting drums and bass rotations in the background – this song could be downsized to five minutes with no decline in quality.

Often, abstract chords are at the heart of this music, like the early experiments of post-hardcore. Yet melody is not difficult for Dool to extrapolate from their amps. Guitar arpeggios flow like undisturbed water streams in the intro to ‘Hymn for a Memory Lost’ before human encroachment intrudes on the serenity. Van Horst likes to draw out a chorus in lip-biting angst rather than as a release from the tension. Observe how they interpret atmospheric doom as an art rock piece in closing track, ‘The Hand of Creation’. The catchy vocal lines carve the words into your chest like a spit painting from a former lover you don’t want to forget.

While not quite the game-changing piece of life-affirming rock people want it to be, The Shape of Fluidity is worth forty-eight minutes of your time. This band will only go from strength-to-strength from here.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 19/04/2024

Record Label: Prophecy Productions

Standout tracks: Self-Dissect, Hermagorgon, The Hand of Creation

Suggested Further Listening: The Hyena Kill – A Disconnect (2021), Bastions – Majestic Desolation (2022), Sons of Alpha Centauri – Pull (2024)