Thursday, November 3, 2011

Deathspell Omega - Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice (2004)

Deathspell Omega's third full-length album, Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice is a very controversial record. It not only marks the band's transition from one style to another, but is one of the key examples of Orthodox Black Metal. Hints of this sound could have been heard on the material that they recorded after Inquisitors of Satan; however, those songs were shelved until being released on the 2008 compilation, Manifestations 2002. Released through Norma Evangelium Diaboli, in February 2004, this album has gone on to be quite influential for modern bands that wish to follow a similar path.

When I first came across this album, it was definitely something new. It had been out for a couple years, but I only had the first two albums from this band. I ended up spending a lot of solitary nights in the autumn and winter of 2006 / 2007 listening to this, along with Sargeist, Horna and Clandestine Blaze. Being in a strange mood a lot of the time, this suited the odd atmosphere. I found that it was more successful as background noise, rather than necessitating my full attention. Though I am aware that several other bands have come along and utilized a similar style, I have not actually listened to any of them so this retains some level of uniqueness in my mind.

It all begins with "First Prayer", which is an instrumental intro that stretches beyond the five-minute mark. It is very slow-paced, possessing more of a Doom Metal vibe, and the Gregorian chant and backmasked guitars add an eerie feeling. Right away, it is clear that Deathspell Omega was looking to expand its sound.

"Sola Fide I" introduces the listener to the band's new vocalist, Mikko Aspa of Clandestine Blaze. His voice is not nearly as good as Shaxul's, but it almost suits the softer music. The production is fairly good, but sounds kind of muddy. The end result is a guitar tone that lacks any sort of edge or rawness, seeming as though it is muffled. The songwriting displays a less straightforward approach, with a lot of dissonant chords and strange riffs that are meant to create a sense of unease in the listener. The best part of the song is the tremolo melody that appears around the middle and, again, near the end of the song. It is quite epic and memorable, whereas the rest of the riffs are more average.

The opening riff of "Sola Fide II" is reminiscent of Mayhem's "Pagan Fears", in some minimal way. The more varied and unpredictable arrangement is a step in the right direction, as far as working to carve out an identity of their own. Still, the riffs are not nearly as powerful and haunting as on the previous album. The last few minutes actually sound like a totally different song, and it features awful effects on the vocals. So far, the impression of this album is that the tracks are working together to create a certain kind of atmosphere, but that none of them are really intended to be able to stand on their own.

"Second Prayer" is another instrumental, and this one possesses an eerie and morbid feeling from the start. The open chords are gradually joined by other elements, with the rumbling of the drums and whispered voices rising from the background. The feeling conveyed by this song is difficult to describe, as I have never heard anything else quite like it. Once the main riff comes along, the atmosphere is like that of a nightmare that has become reality. You are imbued with a horrible feeling, as if you are wearing the wrong skin or, perhaps, just claustrophobic inside your own body. Everything around you appears somehow different. It may be that the sounds here allow your eyes to see the world for the true horror that it is and this realization is almost too much for the feeble human mind to bear.

This is followed by "Blessed are the Dead Whiche Dye in the Lorde", which hearkens back to the band's earlier material, in a sense, starting out at full force with blasting drums and high speed tremolo riffs. As the song progresses, the drumming becomes more simplistic and Rock-based, while the riffs take on a less-threatening tone. Though this actually sounds like a coherent song and not just one piece of a greater whole, it does not maintain a solid Black Metal feeling, throughout.

"Hétoïmasia" starts out with mid-paced riffs that conjure up a morbid quality, before things speed up and reaches a higher level of intensity. The song loses focus until the slower riffs re-emerge, accompanied by a sombre lead solo. The faster riffs seem more in line with the type found on Infernal Battles and Inquisitors of Satan, simply not executed quite as well. That could be due to the horrible production or even the out-of-place vocals.

"Third Prayer" is, basically, another instrumental interlude. There are some voices in the background and more chanting utilized, but these are secondary to the guitar riffs, which re utterly miserable and dreary. This is the sort of thing that one would expect to hear in the final moments of life, passing away from this world knowing that your entire existence was a waste and that you failed in every conceivable manner.

The title track is a good example of the horrid mixing job, as the drumming totally drowns out the guitar riffs. Only during the mid-paced sections are the guitars allowed to breathe, though the vocals seem to never end. Though this song includes some slower parts that add an eerie feeling, it still fails in the sense that it is not solid enough to stand on its own, outside of the context of the full album.

"Odium Nostrum" is filler, more or less. Absolutely nothing about this song stands out, in a positive way. It is beyond bland and does nothing to add to the overall atmosphere of the L.P.

The next song is "Jubilate Deo (O Be Joyful in the Lord)", which starts out with fast tremolo riffs that do a better job of slicing through the muddy production, with a colder and more crisp guitar tone. Late in the track, the pace slows down and the morose aura that permeates so much of the record bleeds forth. Disappointingly, the song fades out just as it is getting more interesting, with a nice sorrowful melody draining the life of the listener.

"Carnal Malefactor" is the highlight of the album. Clocking in at over eleven minutes, this is the longest track, though the length is extended artificially. The main riffs are slow and mournful, maintaining a funereal vibe and tying everything together quite well. The anguished melodies call to mind times of misery and loss, things that are gone and shall never return and a time that will live on only in fading memories that are also soon to pass into total nothingness. The pace picks up a bit, as a woeful melody tears through your being, carrying an epic vibe. This is followed by several minutes of sombre chanting, which actually works quite well in adding to the lifeless feeling. It really lulls the listener into a trance, which is abruptly destroyed as the music comes raging out of the silence. With a furious speed, the drums and guitars annihilate your spirit in a merciless assault. Only the shift to a more relaxed pace allows you to survive, though the more intense riffs return a couple more times.

While the album really should have ended with that track, a couple more attempt to follow it. "Drink the Devil's Blood" is a re-recorded song that first appeared on the Infernal Battles album. This version sounds more natural, as far as the drums go, but the sterile guitar tone and wretched vocals are quite inferior to the original. In most cases, if a band wants to re-record an old song it is better if they are capable of improving upon the original, rather than just proving that the old material was superior.

The album concludes with "Malign Paradigm", which is a slow-paced instrumental outro that does well to wrap things up and leave the listener with a rather depressive impression of the album. One gets the notion that the band should have abandoned Black Metal for Funeral Doom, or something of that nature. Though, in a way, they went on to abandon their roots anyway.

Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice is definitely meant to be listened to as a whole album, since few of these songs work well on their own. For what it is, this is not a bad record, though it would be the final Deathspell Omega full-length worth listening to. Overall, the music and atmosphere does not compare to Inquisitors of Satan and the whole religious obsession that dominates the lyrics is actually a turn-off. While this is not the great classic that many seem to think it is, it is worth a listen. Just do not expect the same level of quality as found on the previous records.