Monday, 14 April 2008

A Truly Impenetrable Darkness: The Opacity of our Blackened Hearts (Warners Black Metal)

On this album, the sophomore release from Armenia’s leading progressive black metal collective, we truly do hear the sound of darkness. A three-disc set with liner notes from Marc Almond and art by long-term devotee Ludovic Giuly, this is an ambitious project by anyone’s standards.

Disc-long opener A terrible scream, made all the more terrible by where it took place: by a really old grave fills any listener with insufferable, nauseating dread as the funereal pace set by drummer Fatharotz is slowly suffocated by crystalline guitar lines and stentorian bass straight out of Old Nick’s tab book. Guttrax’s vocal performance can only be described as transformative, a fitting compliment for one who reportedly morphed into the form of a braying hound while onstage in Bavaria.

39 minutes into disc one the group is joined by the wailing of an old woman, who intones the entire script of The Omen in Armenian while a grim organ melody emerges like the spirit Dragorthyan from the mist-shrouded Lake of Hadorath. However, all this is soon eclipsed like the fiery winter moon of Trugorob by a riff that can only be described as “well heavy”.

Emotionally and physically drained, the listener is jolted by the song’s conclusion, as staccato violin shrieks echo forth from the tattered remains of her speakers and Guttrax declares “what is done is done, thy soul is marked like a shadow upon the sun”.

Disc two is compiled from bass player Roy Mariner’s personal archives, consisting as it does of home recordings and improvisations. Notable for its brevity is Behold! Infidel at the Gate of Drafanoth, Thou Shalt be Struck Dead by the Very Presence of Lord Satan, which takes up the blood-encrusted chalice laid down by such groups as Infinite Spring of Gadaman and The Unholy Rollers. With its eight-minute wah solo and flute reprise, Giddy in the Garden of the Law-Giver shows a previously undetected lighter side to ATID. But it’s back to charred, nefarious business as usual with the closing cover of Suede’s Metal Mickey, which manages to convey a sense of doom that not even the original could achieve. A remarkable moment that will live long in the memory.

Disc three is a live document of the group’s tour of Siberia. The first four tracks are thunderous versions from the band’s non-more-desolate debut Me? I Ride the Bile-Soaked Mare at the Behest of the Conqueror Worm. Finally comes a recording that is simply credited as “Live at The Centre of The Earth, Judgment Day”. After 19 seconds of guitarist Wilhammer gargling nuclear waste into a microphone the track erupts into an incredulous metallophonic breakdown, complete with Fatharotz’s furious blast-beat crescendo, where he employs his third arm to devastating effect. From then on the riffs rain thick and heavy, like really bad rain, and we leave the group with a long fade as though descending further and further into the very bowels of Hell to meet their unearthly maker.

Recommended 5/7.

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