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Rituale Stramonium

Moribund (2015)
Rating: 9/10

Black metal horde Abhor are considered an Italian institution within the murky metal realm. The fearsome trio – which formed in 1995 – have been reasonably prolific over the last decade, although it’s been four years since any activity, and so Rituale Stramonium has been an eagerly anticipated release.

The album comes with nine tracks and features the line-up of Ulfhedhnir, Kvasir and Domine Saevum Gravem. In a sense Abhor’s career has been a tad turbulent – the band going through more drummers than Spın̈al Tap – but the upheavals have never affected the focus and brutality of the band, and it’s no different this time round.

By emerging in the mid-90s, it seems that the band has a real understanding of the wave which took that particular decade by storm, and so one can expect typically gnarly vocal barks and an atmospheric sound that varies between atmospheric organ-drenched Gothic brooding to faster, sniping aggression. There are times when black metal from that period can be a touch icy and alienating, but Abhor has enough grim meatiness and darkness to drag the listener in.

The opening track ‘Between Flames And Moon’ is a perfect way to strike the audience in that it is so dense and suffocating with its sound. Although it picks up pace, it’s at its most destructive as a mid-tempo horror show where the creepy organ floats like a fog upon a tombstone, caressing the deep rumbling bass and guitars but also driving the whole sound along as the vocals sneer and rasp with typical gritty aplomb.

‘Diabolus est qui id invocat’ is up next, and it’s clear by this point that the band is on a real downward slope into the depths of evil because with this guttural, slow-building expression of menace Abhor takes black metal into some truly disturbing realms. The vocals are nothing more than a gloopy gargle, but they are perfectly complemented by that cavernous and overtly damp drum plod. This is how black metal should be played, because although it’s very much exuding that mid-90s atmosphere, it is simply without influence. With maniacal flecks of delirious laughter, the whole feel is one of scorn and mocking by the time it picks up the pace.

Although the album is dressed up like one of these contemporary occult rock platters, the image of the female “offering” laid out on some grimy altar is fitting for the wretched racket that oozes from within.

The utterly despicable and ritualistic groans of ‘De exorcismis et supplicantionibu quibusdam’ are hideously brilliant, the vocals being a mere indecipherable demonic cackle and crackle while the organ dominates proceedings and wheezes out like some Hammer Horror ooze over the slow, gushing black liquid waterfall of the pitch guitar. Each time I try to pick out a favourite track I’m engulfed by the next terrifying streak of absurdity, but with ‘De exorcismis et supplicantionibu quibusdam’ there’s such an authentic doom-laden quality that I’ve found myself hitting the repeat button time and time again to revisit this grotesque slab.

The wickedness is prevalent throughout; from the bewitching organ-chant of ‘I… The Witch’ with its plundering bass to the hammering perversity of ‘Circle Of Stones’, which is truly abrasive with its suffocating speed. After a few spins of this extraordinary black metal arrangement you’ll be left scraping serpent slime and black candle wax off your flesh, because this is one truly satanic outing best played in the attic of Dracula’s castle. But, should you be brave enough to want to see sleeping corpses emerge from the nearby graveyard, then be sure to spin the closing serenade which is ‘Requiem For Errans Infernorum’; a splendid organ-drenched instrumental carved straight from some old, creaky black and white horror film.

Abhor’s new exercise in exorcism is their finest yet and one sure to blow away a few cobwebs.

Neil Arnold

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