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Romanian black metal isn’t something you hear often when regarding to the whole core of the scene or to the particular eastern European region. Besides the now almost defunct Negură Bunget, there isn’t any band to really make it big in the underground scene. It’s a shame our country is overlooked when it comes to extreme metal in general, as “Dracula’s realm” is especially full of interesting black metal material.
One of those bands who I think would really make it as a striving force in the European scene is Siculicidium. Although being from Romania, it’s band members built the whole concept in Hungarian, as a part of they’re ethnic heritage. Apparently Siculicidium is Latin for the Massacre at Madéfalva, roughly meaning “murder of Szekelys” committed by the Habsbourg army in 1764. Whenever the whole concept of the album is about the up mentioned murder, or as the title, “The Last Gallop in the Universe”, might suggest about a time continuous cosmic existence it’s up to someone who can understand Hungarian.
Leaving behind the, now, mysterious concept, musical wise Utolsó vágta az Univerzumban is a true gem. This is what black metal was always intended to be. Simple, malevolent and vicious riffs, that certain something the whole black metal scene tends to forget nowadays. My first impression upon hearing this album is how good they’re influences were combined. You can hear Tormentor, Bathory and even an edgy punk sounding that makes Siculicidium’s riffs go straight to your blackened heart. A nice touch to the sonic assault is of course the abundance of acoustic breakdowns which serve as a moment of respite or to add an overwhelming atmospheric foundation upon more layers of melody can be added. Tracks presented on this full length are well written for what they stand, don’t expect anything new or extravagant, it’s just black metal with a straight forward in your face punk approach. Production wise, instrumentation is well balanced although it may sound a few times that the drums are over shadowed by the vocals and best thing about it : the bass is audible.
Overall, Siculicidium managed to deliver a fierce black metal record that stays true to it’s roots and definite worth a listen for any old school black metal fan.
First, a couple of minor non-musical pointers. This Romanian group thoroughly use Hungarian language, although I will operate with the English-translated titles throughout the review. Apparently, the band members are part of Székely ethnic Hungarian minority in Romania, and I guess not at all mindful of nationalism but not exclusively limited to it by far, at least judging by the accompanying press release. Nonetheless, the grainy, mostly völkisch photographs reproduced inside the booklet create an impression of a neo-folk rather than a metal record. The music, luckily, is nothing but metal, and of pretty blackened variety to boot.
I should probably immediately get out of the way the lead crooner Bela Lugosi's (how is that for Hungarian nationalism?) purported channeling of the fellow Magyar metal celebrity, a certain Attila you-know-who. These claims are a bit overstated, although a line can most certainly be drawn. I'll admit it, Attila was the first name-check that came to my mind as well, when I first put the album on, and if it is indeed the case, then Mr. Lugosi fortunately kept his attempts within very rational boundaries and succeeded as a result. Opting for a toned down, slightly croaking, raspy and thorny monotone and doing it well, he pulled off a non-grating vocal performance that comfortably weaves itself into the fabric of the music and dwells non-intrusively just below the upper crust of the band's sound.
I am happy to report that the band mostly adheres to the medium-paced and old-school way of thinking, but, again, in a reasonably measured manner. The already mentioned press release this disc came with throws out a plethora of alleged influences, from BATHORY and TORMENTOR to DARKTHRONE, AURA NOIR, DRUDKH and PRIMORDIAL, all of which put together are hard to concur with, at least when it comes to direct correlation. How many times can you really say BATHORY and DARKTHRONE, eh? But you've got to market it somehow, right? Hell, I am guilty of it too. Besides, I could manage to draw comparisons to some of these bands one at a time on the course of the review. Why not give it a shot?
At the same time, we should give the band props for managing to combine a sturdy, encompassing sound with leveled, healthy doses of slightly more up to date song structures and some introspective pretension. The album is relatively short, with only six tracks to show for, so track by track overview that might usually set people's teeth on edge may not be out of place.
The opening title track did remind me quite a bit of the Columbian expatriates INQUISITION's mid-paced excursions circa, say, "Invoking The Majestic Throne of Satan", due to the saturated, bottom-heavy guitar/bass tone as well as the riff progression. The band lashes the same riffing sequence around for nearly seven minutes, but furnishes it with fully predictable and yet just as fully enjoyable ups and downs. A welcome addition that SICULICIDIUM bring to the table is a tasteful acoustic guitar break on the song's first half. The acoustics reappear at the end of the song to serve as another aptly enjoyable exit tunnel for the last minute and a half.
The following track "Faintly Against Time" takes a decidedly more melodic approach at first, utilizing a straight rock drum beat and a lead guitar line that chaperones to a short, bass-driven pit-stop, crowned with a brief vocal incantation, before introducing a "De Mysteriis..."-era MAYHEM style riff while retaining a straight drum beat. The composition's cyclical structure comes around towards the end with a now-becoming mandatory acoustic break and returning melodic solo. "Uncertain Ideas - Resistance! (Uncertain Ideas pt.2)" is another nearly eight minute long track that starts off with a neat, if a bit too familiar, oscillating riff, which serves as a basic frame and a leitmotif, upon which the band erects an additional melodic storey, acoustic breaks, and variations on the theme.
"Maybe (If I Heard It)" is a relatively short track that strikes a counterbalance between a higher speed and a more emotive atmosphere via periodic injections of vaguely melancholic guitar soloing. It seems somewhat underdeveloped, unfortunately. The atmosphere struggles to imply more than meets the ear, leading me to speculate that the song had potential to unfold in a greater manner. "Last Breath of Regret (Taxidermia)" is where AURA NOIR and TORMENTOR comparisons might make a speck of sense. Think of controlled, slowed down and considerably less frantic and unfettered take on these two, but even that is a bit of a stretch, what with all the slow sections alternating in between. However, the higher-speed segments the track contains are fast and straightforward enough to conjure an almost borderline 80's impression. Overall, depending on your point of view, it comes off either as a bit of a needed shake up or merely a run-through piece before the closer "Decay, Slowing Down" comes along and uncoils its palette. This final eight plus minute piece again consists of another single riff the band spins around. Basically, the band members perform a very simple trick here, done many times before. The riff's derived, melodic upper notes are held back during the first part of the song and unleashed only after a lengthy acoustic break. And this is where the PRIMORDIAL comparison might best be squeezed in, if at all. Either way, after all is said and done, the song returns to square one and the band wrap it all up.
The album's production gets slightly muddy at the bottom end but not enough to throw a big monkey wrench into the overall sound, which is considerably warm and resonant and pleasing to these ears. The atmosphere, arguably of course, does not strike me as particularly evil, which is were I may be able to stick DRUDKH with its "nature-oriented black metal". Drums stick to relatively simple patterns and fills and do what's required of them. Anything fancy would simply be excessive for this type of music. Bass mostly follows the direction guitars take, only occasionally taking a momentous lead notes in order to accentuate breaks and some highs and lows of the riff sequences.
None of the tools SICULICIDIUM employ are original in any way, shape or form, you understand. You are sure to find many a familiar cadence and sonority on many other releases. Difference is, if there is indeed a difference, that an overwhelmingly smaller fraction of this kind of bands are able to present the same old ingredients in a more meaningful way than others. From where I stand, SICULICIDIUM manage to succeed in that regard more often than not, rendering "Last Gallop in the Universe" a very solid, niche BM recording. Apply as needed.
(Originally published in Diabolical Conquest web-zine)
Romania is a country I’ve never really explored when it comes to black metal, so I had next to no expectations when I first listened to Siculicidium’s 2009 full-length debut, entitled ‘Utolsó Vágta az Univerzumban’. I know the odd band here and there, like Negură Bunget, for example, but the extent of my knowledge on the Romanian scene is very poor. Whenever I tend to hear a band from this region I usually expect one thing from them, if nothing else, and that is to produce a sound steeped in Romanian culture, heritage and history. Bands from this part of the world tend to have a story to tell and it’s usually centered around the Transylvanian historical region in the central part of the country. This region seems to be the perfect inspiration for numerous black metal bands around the world, let alone in Romania itself, including the likes of Negură Bunget, a world renowned band who exclusively write and shape their music around Transylvanian mythology and spirituality. This particular band have shown their allegiance to this type of thing by previously releasing their own homage to Transylvania in the form of some of their earlier works, like ‘Transylvanian Resistance’, for example.
To say that Siculicidium are a surprise package in many ways wouldn’t be doing them justice. On the face of it, Siculicidium are set to be another run-of-the-mill black metal band from a Central/South-eastern European country whose sole aim is to embrace their darkly rich culture and produce a generic sound which couldn’t even compare to the likes of bands like the aforementioned Negură Bunget but that isn’t the case. What little expectations I had of this release were quashed almost instantaneously as the band adopt some unexpected influences. Generally, when it comes to relatively obscure and small scenes such as the one in Romania, the “lesser” known bands tend to shape shift their music so that it sounds almost precisely like the best known band in the country. However, to Siculicidium’s credit, they have not done this. Instead, they take a huge amount of influence from an unexpected source, tapping straight into its veins and leeching from it almost directly. The way in which the production works alongside the guitars is a primary example of how this band capture the greatness of their inspiration.
However, again to Siculicidium’s credit, they have made an attempt to mix things up by changing things around and implementing some fresh ideas into an already wonderful mixture. This now two-piece band take the majority of their influence from the likes of Colombia’s Inquisition. They use a really thick and twisted production to make the release feel like it has a slightly doomier edge to it. The production is key to the success of the album because it knows precisely what to do and when to do it. With this album, timing is everything. As songs like the brilliant ‘Bizonytalan ideák 1-2 - Ellenállás! (Bizonytalan ideák pt. 2)’ highlight, the band don’t allow themselves to fall into the trap of becoming straight laced and monotonous, they mix it up with heavily melodic passages alongside acoustic segments which are devoid of the strange vocal approach, one which reminds me slightly of Attila during his early days with Mayhem. The deep throaty vocals are seemingly chanted more than anything, which fits perfectly in with the image of Transylvania and the darkness that surrounds that entire issue.
The vocal work displayed on ‘Talán (ha hallanám...)’ is typical of Lugosi Béla. His strange, eerie voice works wonders with the dense production and is affectively tied together with the unexpected melodic nature of the band well. I hadn’t expected such a melodic sound from the Romanians but it was a pleasant surprise. The dense production may make certain elements a little inaccessible at times but it works wonders with the melodic side of the band, making sure to maintain a darker edge at all times. The album tends to shift a lot in that sense, from one mood to another with the melodic nature making the atmospheric slightly more uplifted whilst the vocal work and consistent drumming bring it crashing back down to Earth where the occult rules and death is in everyone’s shadow. Much of the material, bar the occasional fast drumming and tremolo riffs, is played at a comfortable mid-pace though certain songs, like ‘Lebomlás, lelassulás’ effortlessly shift between slow, mid and fast paced with the slower passages being excellent integrated into the sound by the usage of acoustics and accompanied passages from the bass, which takes on a much more experimental and individual sound during these slower stages. All in all this surprise package both deceives and delights. I wasn’t expecting much from this album initially, but it has turned out to be rather excellent.
'Utolsó Vágta az Univerzumban' is the debut by Romanian black metal outfit 'Siculicidium', which roughly translates to 'The Last Gallop of the Universe'. Worth noting as well are that the band are also from Transylvania, an area of infamously horrific folklore and legend, which many other black metal bands write about, but can only dream of experiencing. I suppose an apt term for describing Siculicidium's music would be 'Transylvanian Black Metal', for they embody everything of the legend that shrouds Transylvania and her many mysteries. They play a very undermined style of black metal, the type of slow, brooding venom that Inquisition produce. Inquisition appear to be the biggest influence on 'Lugosi Bela' here, the guitar riffs are the same type of rolling, throbbing rhythm present in their Columbian peers. Rather than just remaining content with being an Inquisition clone, the music is sporadically intertwined with melodic, acoustic guitar, giving it an added edge of originality, take for example in the first song at 2:30, it helps in breaking up the music from its macabre procession and keeping you from pressing the skip button. What is notable too is that the music is extremely melodic but still holds the acutely evil atmosphere they are aiming for. Although don't get this mixed up with 'Dimmu Borgir-melodic', for it doesn't contain any keyboards at all, the melody all comes from the guitar riffing and vocal patterns which LB uses almost in unison with the turbulence of the guitar. The vocals are again heavily influenced by Inquisition, akin to Dagon's morbid crowing but slightly more 'sung' and less like they were being spoken. The drumming is fairly simple and straight forward, which is more that suitable for this music as it doesn't require a Hellhammer or Frost to hammer the kit to pieces. Simple rhythms and patterns keep the music at it's lethargic, underworldy pace, where as anything else would just be a distraction. If I had to pick a comparison, I imagine the best I can come up with is twenty percent Barathrum, and eighty percent Inquisition.
The production here is thick and dense, it's good to see the band have also went to the effort of getting a decent production as more often than not it hinders a lot of black metal albums. The band look to have gone for a completely different style than is the trend at the minute, while we are infested with swarms of 'DBSM' clones at the minute, 'Siculicidium' have gave us a very unique album in 'Utolsó Vágta az Univerzumban'. It stands out from the crowd, and I would love to see these guys getting more recognition, because based on this album, they deserve it. If you like your black metal with a real evil atmopshere, catchy riffing and identity, and detest the 'blast and flail norsecore' style then I would strongly recommend this album.