The Devil’s Trade – The Call of the Iron Peak
This album couldn’t have come at a better time, nor could it have come at a worse time. As dark and defeated as any piece of music I sampled these two years writing for this blog, The Devil’s Trade‘s Season of Mist debut The Call of the Iron Peak simultaneously captures the disillusioned despair and troubled spirit of our world and drags me down below that threshold towards a core of utter emptiness sourced from the very soul of sole songwriter Dávid Makó. In a sense, this album is perfect for the times in which we live. Nevertheless, I was unprepared to receive it and for that reason spending two weeks with it proved a challenge. It is my duty, then, to make some attempt at preparing you for it before it makes the first move. Are you ready?
Like death itself, there is no preparing for The Call of the Iron Peak. It is comprised of a man from Hungary, his everything poured out through the vocal chords, a guitar, a banjo and one or two guest instruments. Save for the final track, there are no drums. There are almost no synths. Nothing else mars the otherwise impenetrable void of sorrow that Dávid Makó conjures in his serenades to the deepest recesses of the lightless realm. This is not easy listening despite the minimalist instrumentation. Indeed, even the heaviest and least accessible blackened death can’t touch The Devil’s Trade in regards to its challenging nature. For that reason, The Call of the Iron Peak must be treated with care and respect by a listener. Go into this with a light heart, and you re-emerge without a heart at all.
Regardless of the depressive character which permeates the entirety of The Call of the Iron Peak, the first song “The Iron Peak” proves that hooks still survive. A singular melody pierces through the cranial shell and grips you by the stem. Further strengthening its grip, the track oozes atmosphere by way of a wasteland, traveled alone and without hope. “Dead Sister” capitalizes on the setup, coming within centimetres of earworm territory as its plucked banjo provides a delicate measure of bounce to the otherwise bleak offering. A surge of desperate rage bubbles over “Expelling of the Crafty Ape” as Makó demolishes his mic in front of the tumbleweeds which march mournfully around him. This song in particular morphs at least twice, which adds an appreciated measure of variation to the experience. “Eyes in the Fire” accomplishes a similar feat by denying the audience a chorus until the very last second, screaming the title with all of the anguish the man can muster. The eight-minute “Dreams from the Rot” slows down even further to a near funeral pace, replete with a false ending and a deceivingly rousing chorus, but the structure of the track lends itself to a smooth ride which belies its length.
It took a few trips through this deserted ghost town before I noticed that The Call of the Iron Peak sorely lacks in variety. Melodies never repeat themselves note-for-note—except for the closing track, which smartly recycles the intro melodies to tie any and all loose ends. However, sections of any song could be swapped with each other and still fit together. Even if that wasn’t the case, The Call so consistently drowns the listener in despair that it comes dangerously close to either alienating or desensitizing whoever bears its weight, risking the potency of its impact. A moment of false hope or illusory light, expressed with either music or lyric, would both expand the scope of this record and make it irreparably devastating. Furthermore, the three atmospheric interludes included (all named with varying quantities of the ‘I’ character) are each entirely disposable, offering no compelling argument for their existence through storytelling, thematic relevance, or striking musicianship.
The criticism I posit in no way means to dissuade anybody from listening to The Devil’s Trade. The Call of the Iron Peak is an intimidating chunk of dark folk. It will not appeal to everyone, and those faint of heart may not survive the trek. But if you have a predilection for sunken dirges which revel in the pit of crushing gloom, no record so far released in 2020 touches The Call of the Iron Peak.