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Little engine that could? - 55%

UCTYKAH, September 1st, 2012

I finally pulled this out with clear intention of writing some kind of retrospective overview, having blindly purchased it way back when it was still in print and Necropolis was still an active operation. It is a little peculiar that Roberto Mammarella did not care to release it himself. After all, he is better known as the proprietor of Avantgarde Music record label rather than the driving force for Monumentum - essentially a one man project for Mammarella with whatever adequate session musicians happen to be around at the moment. But come to think of it, none of the project's releases were issued by Avantgarde until this year's split 7". On the course of the band's nearly quarter century long history, Monumentum was never exactly a hyperactive entity. Mammarella's public activities as a musician were sparse, as if squeezed in when he felt like it or had the time. Such sporadic musical output in between the band's break-ups and resurrections still resulted in one veritable masterwork and the band's signature work "In Absentia Christi". Said first album displayed so vividly Mammarella's big inclinations towards various shades of Gothic music rather than metal per se, which is also partially reflected in a fairly eclectic release history of Avantgarde and its now defunct sub-label Wounded Love. But before the exquisite sounds of "In Absentia Christi" were fully formulated and properly manifested, "Musaeum Hermeticum" demo saw the light of day in the bygone late 1980's era and served not only as a first draft, a rough, bare bones harbinger for things to come but also somewhat anticipated future developments of the metal landscape in the 1990's.

I do not want to speculate as to how much immediate resonance that tape's 180 originally issued copies managed to generate, yet one of them found its way to and allegedly sparked interest from none other than Euronymous, who, as the story goes, even planned to release the band's debut at some point in history. Well, perhaps the old Euro was naive and gullible enough to prematurely reveal his plans to the supreme council of the big G, the big O and the big D. The threesome, of course, laughed, or, maybe did not even bother to confer a measly smirk upon such a renegade servant. But the next thing you know, everything started to fall through a hole in the floor and the rest, as they say, became history. But I digress. What caught Euro's ear, and those of other 179 recipients, was probably said demo's somewhat unusual temperament, given the time period. The band's (Mammarella initially had an actual, assembled line up) willingness to squeeze such darkwave and/or death rock-inspired disposition into a vaguely metallic frame raised a couple of eyebrows back then, I reckon. Think early Christian Death vainly struggling to cover Celtic Frost's "Into the Pandemonium" at lethargic tempos but finally giving up and just letting whatever comes out flow freely, and you will have hit an adjacent spot. The confluence of grimy, stripped garage sound and recording and mild pretension of heaviness with fledged gothic sensibility could have theoretically opened a small window or two for those who heeded. I will not state that this demo actually spearheaded the idea of fully marrying metal and Goth as we came to know it in the 1990's, but in retrospect, it fit in as an obscure, minor missing link that contributed a little something to the developmental process. If anything, this demo can be viewed as another attempt to continue bringing together various pieces of the 1980's dark music mosaic and hoping, albeit most likely blindly, to hit upon new ground in the process, right before the turn of the decade.

One favorable material argument can be found in the opening and closing instrumental pieces "Nostalgia of the Infinite" and "Morendo" and their incorporation of what appears to be a violin, which puts My Dying Bride's pioneering status-quo in a bit of a perspective. "Nostalgia of the Infinite" in particular, with its guitar riff-violin interplay, sounds quite a bit like a precursor to the 90's gothic doom clich├ęs. Second favorable argument stands in form of the demo's centerpiece called "A Mediumistic Evening", which, while still being essentially a gothic song, also impulsively cultivates, with its protracted running time and free form structure, the future aesthetic of what a few years later became contemporary doom metal. "Nephtali" treads similar ground but on a smaller, more compact and slightly more upbeat, dark metal scale. This track is notable for its prominent incorporation of keyboard passages (in a way that also became a pretty standard thing later on), but it is also the most conspicuously gothic in nature, I'd say. This, by the way, is the only demo song that Mammarella saw fit to transfer over to the album. But the real stylistic aberration in the given context is the second track "Remains of Majesty" - also a crucial part of this recording for our intents and purposes. Easily the heaviest, most aggressive and driving song on here (the band probably figured they should be faithful to Celtic Frost at least on one track), replete with unusually gruff vocal hoarse-speak (influenced by Tom Fischer, no doubt, whereas the rest of material is crowned with Rozz Williams/Robert Smith typically gothic type of moaning vocalizations) and cool atonal soloing, it basically holds this recording's most direct connection to metal, without which the whatever historical significance for the metal scene this demo does possess might be even less apparent.

With that said, "Musaeum Hermeticum" does not stand the test of time well, which Mammarella himself readily acknowledged in the liner notes of the demo's digital reissue. Garage recording and the band's still not exactly impeccable playing did no favors for the kind of music Monumentum were going for back then. On the other hand, this could also be what possibly lent this tape its alleged cult status amongst some metal musicians back then. Mammarella properly realized his vision when he eventually recorded "In Absentia Christi", where, again, it became all too obvious that he saw Monumentum's connection with metal as tenuous at best. Subsequent, comeback releases drifted even further into eclectic Goth and post-industrial territories but, frankly, did not spark that much excitement in yours truly. It is interesting that the man's interest in metal, aside from his stint with blackened Gothic doomsters Cultus Sanguine, was nurtured through his label's activities so much more than through desire to play the actual music. Regardless, as it stands, "Musaeum Hermeticum" is still a notable yet ambiguous reference point artifact that might have helped shaped, partially preceded, possibly influenced...when it was not mistaken for another Goth record. History is too flaky, memory spans are too short and patchy, and the world, of course, is not just. Which is not to say that this tape was dealt the hardest end of the stick when an average Joe like me sits down to write a little something in its homage twenty some years after its initial conception.