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Yes, the (literal) underground, we get it - 71%

Noktorn, May 28th, 2007

I think one of the central issues that faces USBM is that each artist seems to have something to prove. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing; Havohej made a masterpiece out of the absurdist blasphemy that burned the outro of 'Dethrone The Son Of God' into the mind of every metalhead, or how the bizarre demos of one Von accidentally influenced the second wave so powerfully. But these are certainly the exceptions, not the rule, and the number of dim Darkthrone clones can be counted far in excess of the number of Profanaticas. I'm not going to suggest that it's a matter of nationality, but more of distance: the natural removal of America from the origins of black metal likely breeds a need in such artists to prove themselves as legitimate members of the community.

I say this because Absonus Noctis is trying really, really hard on 'Penumbral Inorgantia'. This album is to black metal as Remembrance's 'Frail Visions' is to funeral doom: a mind-bendingly serious labor of love, albeit without that album's obsessive adherence to genre conventions. The whole album sounds like it was written in one week while locked in a basement somewhere. This isn't really meant to indicate weak songwriting; more as a reflection of the weirdly intense and meticulous nature of this album.

This (and apparently, at least to some degree, all of Absonus Noctis' work) is a conceptual release, though any real understanding of it has to be gleaned rather indirectly due to a lack of published lyrics. Absonus Noctis has an apparent infatuation with the underground and various subterranean sundries, and indeed, the music here appears to, track by track, move further down into the caverns in which the album's seemingly loose narrative takes place. From what I've been able to ascertain, said narrative appears to describe one individual's descent into the caverns, where upon reaching the lowest level, he takes possession of some dark, mystical (magical?) power. Not quite directly Lovecraftian, but the influence is certainly there.

The atmosphere is suitably dank and dismal for such a subject. or some reason, the music reminds me of the soundtrack and general ambiance of the computer game 'Quake'; so strikingly so that it seems only to be missing the 'chink' of the grenade launcher as it prepares to decimate a pack of lurching undead to make the union complete. Everything is absolutely drenched in cavernous reverb bordering on the ridiculous (see the vocals in the beginning of 'The Black Fields Of Desolation'), but never quite crosses the border into irritating. Tempo ranges from moderately quick to extremely slow, but additionally punctuated by stretches of guitar/vocal ambiance; there are essentially no percussive breaks or fills on this album.

The instrumentation is typical black metal fair used in atypical fashion. The music is almost entirely guitar-based, and that instrument varies between fuzzy and buzzing yet strangely blunt distortion and moody clean arpeggios. The riffing is somewhat reminiscent of early Burzum stripped of its frantic and occasionally thrashy properties. A further alternation occurs within the distorted passages: riffs are divided between paranoid, atonal tremolo riffing and marginally more melodic mid-paced portions. What the riffs lack in catchiness they make up for in atmosphere and a clearly defined sense of style; while comparisons can be drawn, I've never heard a sound quite like this.

Bass is audible and clean, providing a fair drone to base the festivities upon. Drums (programmed, of course) are highly minimalistic, with no more than four rhythms occurring per song (and additionally, these rhythms are limited to hi-hat, snare, bass, and crash cymbal voices); however, it works to the songs' benefits, not against them, helping to heighten the hypnotic feel of these tracks. As loathe as I am to draw more comparisons to Mr. Vikernes than completely necessary, the vocals do resemble Burzum's in their howling quality. Of course, Varg never had quite this level of echo on his vocals, but I digress.

So, does the mixture work? Generally yes. It took a few listens to get into the groove of the style, but once I did, I found myself enjoying 'Penumbral Inorgantia' a fair amount. The fairly constant atonality is a somewhat trying aspect, but this comes down to a matter of personal taste. This is not 'catchy' music, and the tracks themselves are not extremely memorable, but while the album plays through, you can easily see their elegant design. This is an album that, due to its narrative design, is most certainly best consumed as a whole; the tracks simply do not stand well on their own. Initial listens show something capable but not captivating; further examination elicits a much deeper experience.

It seems a bit strange to find an album like this on pro CD; it seems like the sort of esoteric thing you'd find on a two hundred-limited tape. I can't see the music of Absonus Noctis being loved by many; appreciated from afar, perhaps, but not normally enjoyed. But I suppose that we will see what the future brings for this band; their debut has left a most promising, if rather mysterious, note.