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A promising beginning - 85%

Verd, March 27th, 2012

"Ars Hermetica" is the first full-length for this young Sicilian black metal band known as Arcanum Inferi, and it's actually a pretty complex one. As the album name and the song titles suggest - all of them being written in Latin - "Ars Hermetica" (Latin for "Hermetic art", obviously) is something like a concept album about a philosophical descent into hell, a course towards self-awareness onto the same trails tracked down by generations of alchemists, hermetists, scholars of many kinds. But, on the other hand, it happens that - unlike any other kind of science - alchemy itselfs deals even with spiritual, philosopical and, above all, hermetical aspects and themes, and we know that by definition the whole "western" hermetical tradition has always been characterized by initiatory, somehow "confidential" teachings and, in any case, a knowledge reserved to few chosen scholars. Hermeticism and alchemy are actually rare themes, almost never faced by musicians (let alone in a whole album!), so while I am pretty ignorant about these arguments it's in any way an interesting beginning - even considering that it's frankly uncommon to come across concept albums when it comes to some artists' debut ones.

On to the musical aspect. After a short ambient Praeludium we have Aeterna Damnatio, a fast black metal track in which Maagher Kxeratum's guitars create some typical melodies in a way that will be found again in almost the whole album, combining "melodic" black metal aspects and more "canonical" ones. Baram's vocals are, though, another great feature of Arcanum Inferi, and while they sound at first similar to Stormlord's Cristiano Borchi ones, proceeding into the song Baram manages to change his style towards a more personal and harsh one. An ambient outro performed by Lord Agheros - reminding the inquisitional burnings suffered by thousands of alchemists and ascetics whose ways to self-awareness Arcanum Inferi is trying to describe in this album - leads us to Furor Melancholicus, a song starting with a great keyboard intro and bursting out into another enjoyable track, yet somehow similar to the former one.

Obscura Nox Ad Inferos, apart from an intro played by a distorted guitar and some changes of rhythm in the drumming, stands out for the fact that it's a track turned towards - for what concerns the musical aspect, of course - an ambient/depressive kind of black metal (even the drumming here reminded to me Abyssic Hate a lot, even if Baram's vocals remain into a more "standard" black metal style), in which few guitar notes played by tremolo picking compose the whole song, thus held by few brilliant melodies. Another pattern is followed by V.I.T.R.I.O.L., which incorporates something that could be called a "refrain" - pretty catchy, I would add - and the closing track, Silvae Viridies, adds yet something new to the album, starting with a slow "hissing" vocal part fading into a fast pure black metal track with, again, an awesome vocal performance by Baram, eventually leading into a slower intermezzo and yet into another closing fast black metal part with an excellent fast drumming.

This said, the seventh track (Tabula Smaragdina, entirely sung in Latin) is, in my opinion, the best one in the lot, and it needs some kind of close examination. To sing entire songs in Latin is not, of course, a real innovation (the Italian heavy/doom band The Black has been singing in Latin since 1988, and who doesn't remember Lavdate Dominvm from Helloween's 1998 "Better than Raw" album?), but Tabula Smaragdina is an astonishing song, both for the lyrical and the musical aspects. The whole Latin lyrics are taken from the Tabula Smaragdina (something like "emerald table"), an ancient text (also translated by Isaac Newton, if you are searching for an English version) believed to having been written by Hermes Trismegistus himself in order to explain, as far as I know, the true and recondite art of alchemy. For what concerns the music, a spoken intro leads to a fast pure black metal track with raw and "low" vocals (performed by another Italian singer, Fearbringer) interrupted by a wonderful piano intermezzo, while towards the end Fearbringer delivers a brilliant clean vocal part which, by the way, reminded me a bit that of Attila Csihar on De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, a song that is also sung half in Latin.

So, I purposely left out two tracks - Fructus Interdictus and I.N.R.I. - mainly because they follow the patterns already tested in the first part of the album, thus, in my opinion, adding nothing new to the album itself, even if they are still pretty enjoyable, well-played and - as the whole full-length - well-recorded. Another thing that I could point out (but this is my very personal taste) is that there are no guitar solos at all, a feature that I love in many black metal bands of any kind (see Infernal War, Taake, Shining etc.).

In the end, probably the most remarkable aspect of "Ars Hermetica" is that it's a full-length that can be enjoyed by a plethora of different listeners, since it contains a good amount of wide-ranging ideas, from the solo keyboard parts to a great vocal style that spans from "melodic" to "raw", if you get what I mean. Or, as I should better explain, from Stormlord to, say, Taake, or even Wolves in the Throne Room. Since I have never loved that much those kinds of "raw" black metal - or even a too much "standardized" black metal that does nothing but copying "Deathcrush" or many other historical black metal albums from the '90s (and this is the dreariest part of nowadays' black metal to me) - I have truly enjoyed the melodical aspects of "Ars Hermetica", the tremolo picking, the numerous changes in the vocal style, from a "canonical" black metal scream to clean or lower parts and to a "faster" scream in the style of the so-called melodic black metal. It's better not to miss this debut album, in my opinion, if you're into black metal of any kind.