Reverorum Ib Malacht: De Mysteriis Dom Christi
As a fan of extreme metal, and black metal in particular, it's kind of hard not to be drawn to , even if the initial attraction is akin to flipping through In Touch Weekly at the grocery store. Because when in the history of this music have two strict adherents to Anti-Cosmic Satanism abandoned their faith and turned instead to the loving arms of Jesus Christ? Sure, we've watched Dave Mustaine become a born-again Christian. We've seen Sakis Tolis distance himself from the Satanic stance of Rotting Christ's first few recordings. But this is a complete schism – an apostasy in reverse if you will.
Five years have passed since the Uppsala, Sweden based duo Emil Lundin and Mikael Martinsson converted to Roman Catholicism. Their latest album, released on the Ajna Offensive record label, is entitled De Mysteriis Dom Christi. If nothing else is ever said or written about R.I.M., this little slice of umm . . . blasphemy . . . heresy . . . pun intended - whatever you want to call it, naming a record steeped in Judeo-Christian themes after one of the most revered albums in black metal history, let alone any other Mayhem record, takes balls. Balls of solid steel. Thousands will spit on this album for no other reason.
But we here at Sea of Tranquility do not concern ourselves overmuch with the personal philosophies of bands, at least not in the album review section. So what does 'Roman Catholic black metal' sound like according to two men who spent years in the womb of the genre's very birth?
Taken entirely on musical merit, De Mysteriis Dom Christi is almost as hard to get accustomed to as the sudden shift in theology of its creators. Lo-fi and obscure, it crawls from the speakers in a most disturbing fashion. A nearly four minute intro of noise, static, and gurgled speaking interspersed with creepy samples of water and bells and fading prayers does not make for an easy listen. Something like music finally takes off around a minute into the second song. The instruments, however, are all but buried. Drumsticks on wet cardboard, highly distorted and fuzzy guitars that make some Darkthrone demos sound cleaner than a Within Temptation album, combined with muffled voices is the order of the day. Not long after this begins, swells of discordant pipes claw their way above the din; skeins of jarring sound somewhere between the brakes on an old truck and the howl of coyotes.
A few drawn out ambient tracks that serve as interludes are interspersed throughout the album, heightening the atmosphere but lacking any real musical cohesion. The only thing they accomplish is to create space between the longer compositions. The most typical black metal musical structure occurs at song 'IV'. The keys and samples are congruent to the raging blast here, sounding a bit like Ancient or Hecate Enthroned. The vocals are almost impossible to perceive, while baritone moans wail like angry ghosts around the cavernous wall of sound. Eventually the vocals resolve themselves into some hellish, low register shrieks which when combined with the rest of the din, create a decidedly bleak, black metal atmosphere. 'IV' is most certainly an album highlight.
At this point the listener is beginning to get a clear picture of what Reverorum Ib Malacht is doing on the album. Momentum has been achieved, and then song 'V' comes along and the sonic train grinds to a screeching halt. 6:53 seconds of a deep pulse threaded with garbled speaking is a lot to ask your fans to deal with. Thirty seconds would have more than sufficed.
Song 'VI' is almost equally as dismal and unengaging until some haunting choirs, combined with effective drumming, elevates it to a creepy, climactic finish. Song 'VII' is another seven minutes you'll never get back. The ambient tones, static, and unintelligible speaking are all cool tropes to use, instilling some good dynamics into the songs, but literally for the love of Christ, thirty seconds is more than enough. Song 'VIII' picks things back up, mirroring the earlier tracks with the blast beats and the garbled vocals weaving in and out of ambient sampling.
'IX' is the only interlude on the album which makes sense. Its 2:08 in length, number one, but also it just works. 'X' is fairly strong, if typical black metal. The clean vocal is highly effective, as is the keyboard sampling and background voices. The horns that appear on the back half combined with choral singing are excellent. The final song, 'XI,' is over ten minutes long, and simply does not contain even one idea that in any way justifies that exorbitant length of time. For compositions like this, please see Negura Bunget, Altar of Plagues, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Agalloch for lessons in long black metal songs that hold the listener's interest.
The question of whether their art possess validity as black metal can be discussed ad nauseum, but one should remember that in 2014, the art form has moved so far from its roots that we commonly accept bands whose black metal revolves around a plethora of concepts, including but not limited to Nature, urban decay, nuclear war, personal issues, and history. If you can accept these themes into the spectrum of black metal, it stands to reason that you could accept the theme of non-Satanic, biblical religion as well. Again, this will come down to personal preference because try as you might, scene police, true art resists strict categorical norms. Just as Tom Hanks famously said 'there's no crying in baseball,' many esteemed and respected artists have famously said 'there's no rules in black metal.'
Reverorum Ib Malacht asks a lot from the listener on De Mysteriis Dom Christi, perhaps too much. There are many moments on the album that truly strike the chord of black metal, showing that the band is more than capable of making effective compositions. Unfortunately, there is almost 25-30 minutes of this album that are completely and utterly unnecessary. Perhaps R.I.M. is reminding us all how boring church was and why many of us strayed from it in the first place. In the end, you have an album that is half worthy and half terrible.
Added: October 11th 2014
Reviewer: Nicholas Franco
Related Link: Band Facebook Page
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