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VG's Cavalcade of Weird Albums, Pt. 10 - 82%

Valfars Ghost, August 2nd, 2019

Ever wonder what the weirdest metal album of all time is? It could very well be At the Conclave, the first full-length release by Belarusian oddballs Divina Enema. This is an album that pulls together a lot of elements you might be familiar with but constructed in ways you've no doubt never heard before. At once familiar and totally alien, this amalgam of the baroque, the gothic, the symphonic, and the avant-garde is a genre-smashing excursion into a dark, cartoonish, creepy world no other band could possibly give you a glimpse of.

Usually when one describes what a musical project sounds like, a brief list of other bands they were probably inspired by is a good way to start. Windir clearly took a lot of cues from Bathory, Enslaved, and Emperor, for instance. No such comparisons are possible with Divina Enema. While there are symphonic, gothic, industrial, and even electronic elements readily apparent, they're all strange enough in their composition and delivery that determining where Divina Enema is getting its ideas from is impossible to say. When the band goes symphonic, we ain’t talking about a Nightwish vibe. Instead Divina Enema’s symphonics usually rely on high-pitched Muppet choirs and the rich, hypnotic baritone of Yaroslav A. Burakoff, who sounds like a blend of Matthias Blad, Serj Tankian, and the Count from Sesame Street. The band occasionally reveals its electronic tendencies with weird synthesizers drifting in and out of the mix but these bits don't call any names in the electronic music scene to mind. Various gothic bands probably make up Divina Enema's main sources of inspiration, because the album maintains a dark grandiosity throughout its length but at the same time, it’s a far cry from any band that sounds like Paradise Lost. Though the album has a clear “vibe” it's going for, it's built on the backs of a number of far-flung elements, all twisted into unfamiliar shapes like reflections in a funhouse mirror, making comparisons to anything that came before it (or after it) difficult and perhaps even meaningless.

Among all the strange ideas the band bombards you with, Divina Enema has found a brand new sort of dread. From beginning to end, At the Conclave has a creepy tone built on basslines that shamble along like a three-legged horse and interplays of distressed and ominous vocal modes, with some excellent examples of both being found in the first two minutes of 'The Holy Holt'. Divina Enema mostly proceeds at mid-paced tempos, but even when they speed things up with some galloping drums and fairly straightforward riffs, the album maintains an atmosphere that’s cartoonish in the same weirdly threatening way the production design of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is. Whether it’s through a hypnotically strange progression thrown into the mix, haunting orchestral bits in the background, or the near constant presence of the schizophrenically different voices, this album brings to life a unique atmosphere that effectively captures the experience of wandering through the ruins depicted on the cover as unseen ghosts shriek at you from all directions.

While the undercurrents of violins and stately keyboards in 'Gargoyles Ye Rose Aloft' and ‘Down Along the Roots’ both produce the disorienting effect the band presumably wants, the essential ingredient to this album’s strangeness is the range of vocal styles it employs. From Muppets that harmonize with a ghostly longing to death growls to grandiose baritonal warbling to odd high-pitched shrieks to the occasional normal-sounding background choirs (they’re a keyboard effect but goddamnit, I’m so worn out I'll count 'em) fighting for control, At the Conclave is at all times difficult to predict. The vocal performances create the illusion that a whole choir of cartoon characters has been assembled for the album. This is partly because the vocals shift dramatically in character so fast that listeners are forced to imagine Henson puppets singing to each other in some Halloween special inspired by Tim Burton’s seven greatest nightmares. 'Holy Forever' is one of the songs that overachieves in this category, with several different vocal styles going back and forth like they’re having a half-spoken, half-sung discussion as the riffs and synth effects unfold underneath. This approach reaches its logical extreme in 'Nightmare', a maelstrom of metal riffs, orchestral keyboard effects and aggressive vocals, a disorienting but intoxicating fulfillment of the band’s unique vision.

These voices are sometimes grating, particularly the higher-pitched ones and the occasional spoken word or speak-singing, in which Burakoff's inflections are so wonky that even native English speakers won't realize on a first listen that he's using English (The lyrics listed on MA are all in English but there's no way anyone could possibly tell just from listening to the music). The construction of the album is a bit hard to understand as well. While maintaining a gothic grandiosity, the release shifts in place constantly. Though you may never be sure why a song went from one passage to the next, every single moment is so odd and so thoroughly enshrouded in the same twisted baroque sensibility that they all seem to fit together. Through it all, though, At the Conclave's unabashed strangeness has its own charm and, while there are occasional annoyances in the vocal department, the album weaves a sonic portrait that's as enthralling as it is bizarre.

Enema is right. - 0%

Sargon_The_Terrible, February 10th, 2008

Holy Fuck this is horrible. I cannot imagine how anyone could hear this laughable band and decide to spend money on recording and distributing their hideous music. I can't even justify listening to it except for purposes of warning the unwary to stay far away from it. Enema? Do these people have any grasp of English at all? Still, just plain Enema might have been a better name for this wretched and inexcusable heap of awfulness.

I guess this is supposed to be Gothic or something. It starts out with some moody keyboard bit and then this - this noise starts, this ridiculous wailing like a chorus of muppets screeching out of tune, and you realize this is supposed to be vocals. Even if the music here was cool, the awful vocals would kill it all, but the music is shit. Six long, long, insufferable "songs" that ramble along with no indication that the people responsible have the slightest concept of how to write a fucking song. The production is thin and flat, and the mix is all over the place. Sometimes the guitars are low, sometimes louder, then a fake harp or flute-synth part will come in really loud. The songwriting is a total mess, with no rhyme or reason to it whatsoever.

I mentioned the vocals, and now I'm going to flog them: They are worse than bad, worse than awful. However bad you are thinking, they are worse than that. From falsetto screeching to out of tune moaning to a raspy tone that honestly sounds like Gonzo from The Muppets, this is simply the pits. From some of the crooning in the background, you would think there was a chick in this band, but there isn't – it's just some Slavic dude trying to warble like a chick. The bottom line is that no one in this band can sing at all, and they won't stop trying to create 'choral' effects that made me alternately laugh and wince.

I really considered going with a negative integer for this one, but that would open a whole new can of worms: is –1 low enough, or do I go all the way to –5? So I went with a big fat 0, but that really does not express how utterly awful this music is. I would encourage anyone who does not believe me to track down an MP3, but I cannot in good conscience advise anyone to waste minutes of their lives listening to the festering musical boil that is Divina Enema. I would rather listen to Soilwork, I would rather listen to the soundtrack to the Britney movie, I would rather listen to country music than be subjected to another moment of this shit. And this band has a whole other album, and I have it, and I honestly don't know if I can make myself listen to it. If anyone reading this has ever trusted my judgement as a reviewer: heed me, this is the absolute worst. Hunt down an MP3 if you must, but do not spend any hard-earned money on anything by this band. In fact, don't even accept a CD by this band if it is given to you. Avoid Divina Enema at all costs. And Great White North should be ashamed of themselves for having anything to do with this sewage. How they can sign genuinely good bands like Merlin and BK-49 and then try and foist this loathsome abomination on the public is a complete mystery. Shame! Shame shame shame! Maybe we'll get lucky and Bush will invade Belarus next, it might not be as entertaining as Iraq, but if even one member of this band died it would be worth the trouble. Ugh. I need a shower.

Originally written for

No words will truly reflect how bad this is - 5%

Groops, September 28th, 2006

I’m not going to fanny about with what I think about this. It must be just about the worst thing I have heard in my entire life!! It is quite frankly embarrassing & an insult to Metal. I remember scrolling through the Relapse Records sale items & came across this release. They described it as Death Doom so I thought, stupidly, “Ah, I can’t go wrong with that & it’s cheap too”. But there was a reason it was cheap wasn’t there?! (& it took, like, 10 years to be delivered!) It is such an atrocious creation that no one fucking wants it, & that’s why it only cost a few dollars. It is so damn progressive, it just about progresses back up it’s own arse.

“At the Conclave” combines many different techniques & to be honest, Divina Enema are not bad musicians, far from it, they just can’t put a song together so it can actually be listened to. There are even a few blastbeats here & there. I am actually astounded that elements of such good musical genres such as Doom, Black Metal, Ambient, Gothic, etc can be morphed into such a ridiculous parody of themselves. The most odious part of the album just has to be the vocals. I don’t know if the guy was being kicked repeatedly in the nuts or was getting high on a canister of helium but I just cannot comprehend how anyone can sing so badly. His voice is so head-splittingly awful, it is enough to keep Anadin Extra in sales for the next year & the wolves from their door. I mean, at some points the vocals are almost like yodelling. I kid you not. Anyone who yodels should be shot at dawn if you ask me. It is as embarrassing as your Dad disco dancing & is mentally damaging for anyone of sound mind.

Divina Enema may think they are being clever & challenging by trying to outwit their audience, but in reality they are one big fat laughing stock who have made music which actually makes almost any other activity seem more appealing instead of listening to their album. For example; it would be more enjoyable to visit the Dentist for root-canal work or jump in front of a speeding truck, rather than endure one more second of this mindless toss.

After going through the turmoil of playing this album, & then playing it a second time to see if my hifi was broken (it would explain the terrible sound coming from the speakers), I did the only thing left to do. No, I didn’t burn it, I took it to the local second hand CD shop to sell & hoped none of my friends would find out I bought something so dire. Seriously, don’t waste your hard earned cash on this, it will leave you with huge psychiatry bills & people will laugh when they see you.

The only good thing about Divina Enema is that they have obviously put some kind of effort into the album & trying to create something which sounds different. Therefore I have given them 5% for effort.