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"Carved in Stigmata Wounds" features competent playing, varied riffs (ranging from slow, doomy ones through death metal stuff to fast tremolo-picked black metal ones and good lead melodies), and even compelling atmosphere at times, but its main failing is in the structuring of these ingredients into memorable songs, which frankly happens only twice on the entire album. More than once the riffs, combined with military rhythms, remind of Marduk.
The failing of at least half of the tracks is that they're too progressive for their own good. They start off nicely enough with good riffs and melodies, but diverge into several sections that are mediocre at best, most of times ill-fitting with the rest, and each time ruining the atmosphere that's been conjured up so far. The incessant stopping and starting of songs in-between their 1 to 2 minute smaller parts within gets tiring after a while and is simply detrimental to the impact of the song as a whole.
There are some very good moments, notably on tracks 7 and 9 where the drumming is quite exceptional and the riffs and vocal performance come all together for something greater than the sum of the parts.
Verdict: certainly not a classic (let alone a cult one). If you're bored and looking for something new or are really into the band already, then give it a spin, otherwise you won't miss anything essential.
As can be read in some interviews, Secrets Of The Moon are reluctant when it comes to describing their music as black metal. And indeed, black metal covers only parts of the concept SOTM stands for: there are blasts, there are screaming guitars, and there is the typical black metal kind of vocals. But there also are complex song structures, technical riffs, breathtaking breaks.
The album welcomes its listeners with ambient sounds and a speech sample, that is joined by drums and guitars in a way I have never heard before. The sample is not just put into the track, it is embedded into the music itself. And in these first minutes of the album you can already hear one basic element of the Secrets Of The Moon-sound, namely repeating one riff or theme again and again without falling into monotony.
This intro called "Crowns" then develops into the first "real" song, "Cosmogenesis", contrasting the slow motion riffing of "Crowns" with high speed blasting. And here it becomes obvious for the first time what distinguishes SOTM from all those pure black metal bands - even in the blast parts, drummer T. Thelemnar grooves. His versatile style is of great importance for the album, as can be heard throughout the whole album, and I guess he understands his instruments as instruments and not as a simple metronome like some - or most? - of his colleagues do. When "Cosmogenesis" reaches its end, every listener already knows that this is not just another black metal album.
"Miasma" begins with grooving riffs and that special harmonics-sound I have not heard from any other band. The marching rhythms and black metal-like riffs in the following passage demonstrate the uniqueness of "Carved In Stigmata Wounds" again. The song develops into a raging dark anthem, with that gangshout-compatible "refrain", consisting of the word "Miasma" only. When "Miasma" ends, you'd never think it lasted for 8 minutes.
The next song "Psychoccult Hymn" blasts from the beginning but then suddenly breaks into some delay-driven intermezzo constituting the controlled chaos that can be found in numerous places on the album. In the following moment, the speed is reduced to doom, leaving space for atmospheric bass-riffs and then, again, returning to high speed aggression. After three and a half minute you can hear short seemingly Megadeth-inspired riff, only to break its technical degree with a simple Darkthrone-riff and the verses that haunted my days when I first listened to the album: "he's standing breathless, helpless and worthless!"
"To The Ultimate Embers And Ash" might be the weakest song on the album, although "weak" is meant only in comparison to the rest of "Carved In Stigmata Wounds". Completely different: "Kaosthrone". One of the most energetic beginnings in black metal history, the song develops into a marching manifest and a masterpiece of "How to create a good song of almost 8 minutes with as few riffs as possible".
"Evolution Valour Admission" begins with clean guitars and ambient sounds until its breakout of blasting drums and infernal guitars. I could hardly tell anything about this song that I haven't said before: great riffs (again with those special harmonics sound), versatile drumming, lots of breaks, catchy hooks (well, at least the black metal equivalent for catchy hooks) and at about 7:45 the most evil riff on the whole album.
Then comes "Epoch", and the first riffs instantly recalls Darkthrone's "Total Death" album - which I consider a great masterpiece, by the way - and even the vocals contain some of that Nocturno Culto nihilism - especially in the word "nihilism". Of course, SOTM do not copy the Darkthrone kind of metal in this song, but a certain atmosphere has been transferred from their midnineties releases.
And now it's about time for the absolute highlight. The title song "Carved In Stigmata Wounds" has everything a perfect black metal classic needs and to me stands on the same level as, say, "Mother North", "Freezing Moon", or "In The Shadow Of The Horns". The lead guitars are so fucking great that I will not waste words that could never express their greatness. Just listen!
Finally, "Dust" instrumentally ends one of the best metal - or whatever genre name you want to label it - releases from Germany ever. This album is just perfect: the music is more black metal than black metal itself, but in an innovative way, the sound is powerful, unique and transparent, but not too clean; the complete album has an occult and misanthropic atmosphere. And most important: there are 10 tracks with a total playing time of almost 72 minutes, and 9 songs (without outro, total playing time about 69 minutes) which all have what it takes to become classics. This album, to me, is the perfect black metal release.
(98 % so that Secrets Of The Moon don't feel that they could never top this album)