Odori Sepulcrorum, the debut album by London’s Grave Miasma, is easily one of the best blackened/death/doom albums of the year. Although it is very difficult to compare albums across all the manifold sub-genres of death metal, it surely must also be considered among the best death metal albums of 2013 regardless of category, because the band so masterfully achieve what they set out to do. But it’s one of those albums where reviewers will get a lot more mileage out of reaching for metaphors to describe its dense, dank atmosphere than by detailing the mechanics of what the band do to produce it. Because what they do, at least on the surface, may seem very simple, very primitive, perhaps even neolithic. I’ll show you what I mean:
The album was produced in a way that drenches the vocals and instruments in delay and reverb effects, creating a dense, thick sound in the guitars and bass and a massive (though quite natural) tone in the drums. The vocals in particular come with a decaying echo, as if recorded in a crypt — and they’re so deep and ghastly that they would give Disma’s Craig Pillard a run for his money in the sweepstakes for cavernous bestiality.
The guitars and bass are tuned down and distorted to near-Dismember levels of corrosiveness. Almost all the guitar parts are executed with tremolo picking, producing an even more impenetrable, roaring maelstrom of evil, grinding sound. You can imagine the pick hands flying in a frenzy, although the chord progressions generally move in massive, almost overwhelming waves, in keeping with the generally slow or mid-paced rhythms of this utterly doomed music.
The drumming, which accounts for a significant part of the music’s variety, is bone shattering in its tone. The double-bass eruptions feel like earthquakes, the methodical blast-beats like cannon fire, the tribal-style progressions like the prelude to a sacrificial ritual.
Shit. I’m already reaching for the metaphors before even finishing a description of the mechanics.
So let’s just move whole-hog right into the metaphors. The songs sound like the reveries of monsters who dwell deep within the earth or ancient leviathans with an unquenchable hunger down in ocean trenches. Listening is like a nasty swim through dank, encrusted sewers, the corrosive murk filling your nose, ears, and throat, chased by something huge, inhuman, and heartless.
Or being buried beneath a pile of plague victims in a groaning cart bring dragged through the muck under a torrential downfall.
Or falling into a bottomless sinkhole that has just opened up beneath your feet, with all the surrounding buildings collapsing on top of you on your way down into the filthy void.
Or bearing witness to a ritual summoning of the Great Old Ones, your blood congealing as massive tentacles begin to laboriously writhe their way through the interdimensional membrane.
The music is not without melodies. In fact, they’re everywhere, though they’re so bleak and morbid and so often subtly immersed in the titanic earth-moving operation around them that you may not notice all of them on a first listen. They come most closely to the surface in the song called “έσχατος”, in an almost emotionally moving way, though even in that song they’re surrounded by squalls and blasts and tank-like chugging.
If you listen closely, you can also appreciate that much more is going on in the songs than the movement of unstoppable storm fronts. The riffing moves through transitions, the pacing varies, the dense atmosphere is occasionally layered with electronic effects and eerie ambient sounds (used to great effect in the apocalyptic album closer, “Ossuary”). Brief, shrill guitar solos erupt and writhe in white-hot incandescence.
These things happen, but never at the cost of Grave Miasma’s utter dedication to building their temple of death, their monolith of doom. The gaping maw that sucks at your soul doesn’t close until the album reaches its end, and even then it won’t close completely.
The album will be released, fittingly, on Friday the 13th of September by Sepulchral Voice Records in Europe and Profound Lore Records in North America. Yesterday it began streaming in full at Pitchfork, and you can hear it via the link below. Below the links I’ve also included players for two of the album tracks. The wonderful cover art is by Denis Forkas.