Naarm duo Divide and Dissolve’s Indigenous identities are intrinsic to everything they do. Their name doubles as a call to dismantle hegemonic power structures (or, conversely, an acknowledgment of hegemony’s pernicious effects on Indigenous cultures). They bring up ancestral heritage and colonial violence in their interviews; their albums bear socio-political buzzwords like Gas Lit and Systemic as titles. Lacking all of that context, though, it’d be tough to pin down their grizzled, tectonic metal as inherently political. The instrumental duo is not, say, Sons of Kemet, who address the Black diaspora by playing it, gathering African polyrhythms, Caribbean fusion, and American R&B under their wide umbrella of global-minded jazz. Divide and Dissolve’s music is immediately visceral—you don’t need a syllabus to feel the passion dripping from their sludgy constructions—but learning where they’re coming from adds another dimension to their music.

Since 2017, Divide and Dissolve has comprised guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Takiaya Reed and percussionist Sylvie Nehill (who is leaving the project’s live shows after her work on Systemic). Reed is Black and Cherokee, Nehill is Māori, and in a press release, Reed says the album is in “direct opposition” to “the goal of the colonial project” of “separat[ing] Indigenous people from their culture, their life force, their community, and their traditions.” As the word “systemic” suggests, this is a deep-rooted process, its tendrils entwined with every aspect of modern life. One possible reading of the album is that the only thing that’s going to shake those tethers loose is overwhelming, rattle-your-bones heaviness. The majority of Systemic’s 33-minute runtime is dominated by Reed’s lurching, slowly evolving riffs and Nehill’s thundering doom drumming—an elemental sound that harkens toward millennia-long power struggles, perhaps the Titans rising up from Tartarus and overthrowing the Greek gods.

Depending on your vantage point, Systemic can convey a vast spectrum of moods with its relatively narrow sound. Is it a joyous reclamation? A wailing lament? A call to action? I don’t think the specifics matter. Both musically and philosophically, Divide and Dissolve take a position that is blunt at face value but rich in its readings and interpretations.

Systemic is by far the band’s most structured work. All of Reed’s riffs feel of a piece: a gnarled forest of recurring themes that’s easy to miss for the trees. After a striking ambient intro beckons a false sense of security, their opening riff on “Blood Quantum” pulls the album into a thicket, and though you might catch glimpses of similar pathways midway through on songs like “Reproach” and “Indignation,” they all lead to different ends. It’s not a Dopesmoker-style rotation around a central motif, but it’s hypnotic in execution, a stunning mood captured in amber.

As with Gas Lit, Systemic’s maelstrom is tempered with softer sounds (namely Reed’s piano and harmonium and Nehill’s xylophone) as well as a spoken-word guest spot by the poet Minori Sanchiz-Fung on the song “Kingdom of Fear.” This track, a foreboding, humid interlude, distills the album’s central conflicts. “I have agony on my side, I have experts on violence, I have control of the tide,” whispers a personified shadow with clear parallels to real-world powers-the-be. Sanchiz-Fung, voice quivering but powerful in the face of such opposition, rebukes those forces: “Even in the kingdom of fear, the air murmurs with song through the streets. Joy remains wild. It has baffled the cage again. It has cut through the horror.”

Enjoying Divide and Dissolve doesn’t require mental gymnastics. The initial, gut-level response to Systemic’s crust-punk take on doom metal is more than enough to hold it aloft. But in engaging with its themes, then contemplating them on repeat listens, Systemic gains a depth that’s rare for a largely instrumental record. After a while, it seems as potent and unshakeable as the power structures it seeks to dismantle.

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Divide and Dissolve: Systemic