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All the disquiet over this? - 78%

hells_unicorn, February 19th, 2012

Separating any sort of ambiguous intent or otherwise perceived intent within a work and the work itself should be a simple task, yet doesn’t often work out this way in practice. For better or worse, people just can’t seem to get past their own pet causes and simply enjoy something for its outward aesthetic beauty, a task which requires a bit more intellectual effort than one would guess. It is just simply a better idea to accept the objective reality that a craftsman will try to implant his own quirky niche on his trade and, occasionally in a fit of pretentiousness, pass it off as an orthodoxy that should henceforth never be deviated from. Throughout history there have been a number of pompous composers who have said some outlandish things in reference to their own works (Richard Strauss actually penned “A Hero’s Life” as a self-congratulatory autobiography of his own professed musical heroism), and it does little to diminish the importance of their work.

This preface is an appropriate beginning of an excursion into one of black metal’s more controversial affairs, the 3rd full length effort of Deathspell Omega in “Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice”, an album that fancies itself a sort of counter-church service dedicated to the biblical character known more plainly as “the adversary” (the English translation of Satan). The discontentment that has erupted from the metal community should seemingly be present in the scenes Christian minority (of which I am a part of), but it is actually amongst the large skeptic crowd. Truth be told, the heavy employment of religious symbolism and rituals found on here make this an all too fitting reaction, as any Christian who has any kind of familiarity with metal’s most infamous subgenre has no doubt become numb to this brand of mockery, and the implicit hostility to superstition in black metal circles is not really a universally accepted viewpoint in a demographic that is far from monolithic.

But putting aside the ideological scuffles for now, one thing that is often missed about this work is that in spite of a pretty consistent adherence to black metal traditions of the 2nd wave, there are a few interesting twists in the overall scheme of this album that make for an interesting listening experience. The first and most auspicious is the heavy use of Gregorian chant, giving off an air of solemnity that contrasts quite heavily with the darkened tableau of the guitars and backing rhythm section. The overall dimension of the sound has the feel and presence of a stage not all that dissimilar to one accommodating a pulpit, though the dirty and fuzz laden guitar character limits the overall scope to something more akin to a small building rather than a grandiose cathedral. Echoes of early Gorgoroth and Mayhem can be heard here and there, but the riff character leans a bit towards a flowing, ambient character more in line with Burzum, hinting at a sound that is slightly more agonized than it is horrid.

There is a fair share of weaknesses that become apparent in the delivery of this ambitious work, to the point where one could argue that the album is a victim of its own lofty goals. The most obvious is Mikko Aspa’s vocals, which are generally a 2-dimensional mixture of low end growls and mid-ranged barks that come off as little more than a declarative and dry sermon rather than an impassioned homily that should accompany a work of this professed magnitude. Almost as blatant is the codependence that these songs share with each other, an occupational hazard of sorts for any chapter found in a conceptual offering. Some blazing fits of olden, mid 90s Scandinavian glory such as “Jubilate Deo” and “Hetoimasia” bring home some wickedly fierce riff work and even feature Mikko at his moderated best, and can be easily enjoyed apart from the overall context of the album. But for the most part, when dealing with the slavish “Prayer” series in 3 parts with all the sampled trimmings and slower, doom leaning songs like “Malign Paradigm”, it’s tough to see these songs in any other context than simple segue material for a methodical whole, without which they would be pointless.

The dirty little secret about this album is that, despite the pretention on the part of the band itself, and the various critics that either lavish them with praise or denounce them as unintentional Christian musicians, it doesn’t venture too far beyond territory already explored and apart from the death metal-like vocals there isn’t much to make it terribly distinct. It is a good album in the sense that it manages to be dynamic within established practices and also manages to avoid being overly raw for the mere sake of rawness. It just doesn’t really strike out as something worthy of bold derision or brouhaha, but instead just sits comfortably among a number of Marduk and Watain albums that are worthy of an occasional spin. Sometimes music doesn’t need to be taken so damn seriously, even if the people creating it insist that you do so.