Saturday, 7 November 2015

Thaclthi - ...Erat Ante Oculos (2013)

Beware of the Shrouded Ancestors!

Over the years, Avantgarde Music has established itself as a prime example of what underground metal labels should strive to be: instrumental in bringing genre-defining projects such as Thergothon and Darkspace to the limelight, it has resolutely kept its focus steady on unearthing authentic, forward-thinking metal music – Progenie Terrestre Pura, anyone? – instead of resting on its laurels and capitalizing on household names. Perhaps due to the label's diversity – with signed acts from genres ranging from funeral doom to industrial black metal and gothic/dark metal –, not all of their releases have gained equal acclaim, the result of which being that, over the years, parts of the Avantgarde backlog have been accumulating quite a bit of dust in the absence of popular interest.

Thaclthi's ...Erat Ante Oculos, released in the fall of 2013, is one such release. True to Avantgarde's ethos, the album defies immediate classification – Encyclopaedia Metallum shelves it under black/death/doom metal, which, while not wrong, is too broad a description to be useful. The Italians have probably taken a page from Disembowelment's book, seeing no contradiction in following up plodding doom stomps with frenetic blasting, while the very saturated wall-of-sound-aesthetic, bowed guitar-soundscapes and ethereal ambient effects swirling around and throughout the chaotic violence might betray The Angelic Process's influence. But actual doom riffs? Yeah, you get some chugging here and a drawn-out atmospheric black sequence there, but in general Thaclthi abides by a very liberal conception of “riffs”: whatever techniques Hinthu subjugates his instruments to, they primarily manifest themselves more as grainy, gritty, grinding waves of noise than as conventional riffage. As a consequence of the nebulous way these emanations flow over in one another, pace is dictated primarily by Rathlth's drumming – which I'll get back to later. The vocals, finally, don't accept labels either: Thaurx's hoarse, inhuman shouts approximate those found within hardcore circles, but she (!) just as well resorts to low growls that are more in line with black/death howling.

But enough futile categorization. Thematically, …Erat Ante Oculos draws heavily from stygian mythmaking – what with the song titles referring to respectively the ancient Etruscan word for “ghost”, an Italian horror movie about demons let loose and an occult hellgate –, and opener “Hinthial”, a six-minute ambient piece replete with whispered incantations, ominous droning and reverberating gong strikes, serves as the atmospheric atrium through which the listener must pass, putting him in the right state of mind to cross over into the rest of the album. After this initial tranquility everything is game, and “E tu...” smashes open the gates with a protracted, deafening drum-and-cymbal barrage from behind which a simple guitar line just manages to shine through. Ninety seconds later, the song decelerates into a vaguely middle eastern-sounding doom march infused with the slightest whiff of psychedelia, just until the drumming kicks it into second gear and the pace picks up again. Taken as a whole, however, “E tu...” is a languourous and drowsy affair with few highlights and gets bad marks for its monotonous – albeit intense – vocals and directionless impetus, with its general flow recalling that of an epileptic in a rocking chair.

Having said that, I urge you to totally disregard this negativity and bask in the glory of twenty-minute centerpiece “Ixaxaar”. While its comparatively faster-paced nature causes the at times overbearing cymbals to come more to the front than earlier, it allows Rathlth to showcase his vigourous drumming chops so much more effectively – an opportunity he takes with gusto, suffusing the song with creative fills and idiosyncratic solos. The guitars are likewise freed from their plodding cadence and coalesce into a haze of drone-y dust devils, indistinct riffs whirring around as if kicked up by the drums's footfalls, fading away when their own inertia gives out. Speaking of which, special mention should be made of the middle five minutes, where the sound and the fury gradually diffuse into a shoegaze-y, dreamlike interlude that – in spite of its deceptive tranquility – manages to keep an understated momentum developing instead of being an intrusive break. Indeed, when the violence re-awakes its sedation only proves to have given the song a sense of urgency and anticipation previously not there, and Thaurx's sulphuric vocals have never sounded this positively, passionately inhuman. As “Ixaxaar”'s edifice starts collapsing in on itself around the eighteen-minute mark, a frenzied and ecstatic build-up – which I cannot help but compare to those on Fell Voices's Regnum Saturni – is whipped up, leading into one of the most satisfying drum-dominated climaxes I ever heard.

Now, a mostly riffless album, drowned in its overbearing cymbal crashing, with only one song on it I would regularly listen to – I assume you, reader, do not see this as a shining endorsement. And yet it is and you should: ...Erat Ante Oculos contains so many ideas, influences and techniques that even when a song fails it does so in an interesting way – and when it succeeds, it's phenomenal. The amazingly energetic drumming, the ambient-ish drone-y not-quite-cascadian guitar storms, the occult Etruscan subject matter – I could and have tried pointing out Thaclthi's possible sources of inspiration, but taken as a whole, there really is no other album that compares. I can only hope that when (or rather, if – it's been silent in Thaclthi's camp, so far) they decide to release a follow-up, they will manage to balance out the production somewhat better – but who am I kidding: they show so much promise and originality that I'll probably buy it, regardless of the path they take.

And besides, it's only €2 on their Bandcamp page – you've got no excuse. Go and get it.


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