The allure of Oltretomba’s new album L’Ouverture Des Fosses is difficult to explain, and to be honest, its twisted mechanics may prove to be most alluring to those whose minds are already unbalanced. Or perhaps I should just speak for myself. “Nihilistic black doom, languishing eternally in the psychic realms of the half-dead” is the way Caligari Records describes the music. It is an unsettling combination of primitive and futuristic (or alien) ingredients — uncomfortable music that nevertheless mesmerizes, like a strong audio narcotic that grips the pulse, clouds the brain with nightmarish visions, and brings a sheen of cold sweat to the surface of the skin.
We’re told that the album was recorded in a World War II bunker, presumably one still haunted by the spirits of those who were mangled and burned within its confines. Perhaps the music was intended to bring them back to life; perhaps they participated in the recording; it wouldn’t be surprising if they had, given the chilling, spectral emanations captured within these six tracks.
As the album proceeds, the music becomes a tool for the ablation of the listener’s sanity, but even though you might suspect this is the grand strategy, it’s difficult to escape. With the exception of the shortest track, “Requiem Pour Grand Duc”, which functions as a kind of interlude, each song is anchored by primitive, ritualistic drum rhythms and the bone-scraping clang of the bass. Once launched, the rhythms rarely change, looping over and over again within each song. Around them these Danes drape shrouds of poisonous electronics, eerie waves of shimmering keyboards, and outbursts of freakish guitar arpeggios. The vocals are all spoken-word pieces (the words spoken in French); some of the voices are demonic, some are human, and some of those are solemn and some deranged.
The mesmeric quality of the music is in part a function of the band’s use of repetition. In part it’s a function of the perverse fascination that can sometimes transfix the mind when in the presence of something frightful and uncontrollable, perhaps like the effect of a cobra swaying a few feet from your head.
The stage is set by “Des Experiences Cruelles”. Abrasive and discordant, it puts your teeth on edge and sends shivers up the spine. The slow, methodical drum cadence awakens primal memories; the echoing wail, shimmer, and shriek of the guitar is weird and unnerving, but not more so than the cruel, contorted tone of the voice that declares the lyrics in a deep, ghastly growl.
The follow-on track, “Thoth”, has a more syncopated, head-nodding percussive rhythm — cloaked in a shroud of harsh reverberations with a toxic atmosphere, pierced by strange, flickering guitar notes and pulsating, orgiastic arpeggios. One imagines cloaked figures stomping and swaying around a midnight bonfire, appealing to some horrid entity to manifest itself in glory.
“Thoth” isn’t the only track that can get your head moving — “Ablation de la Boite Cranniene” includes a head-nodding riff, and the beat of the title track compels movement as well. But there is an atmosphere of ancient mystery or perhaps futuristic, space-faring vistas in the gleaming astral tones that flower, shimmer, and subside in “Le Texte des Pyramides” and in the gliding ambient waves of keyboard harmony that make up that instrumental track, “Requiem Pour Grand Duc”, which is panoramic in its sweep and mystical in its resonance — like the revelation of a glorious but ominous light shining in the deep void.
Nevertheless, harsh sounds predominate; an atmosphere of dread permeates almost everything; you sense that inhuman forces are being summoned, and you’ve become a participant in the ceremony, perhaps an unwilling one at first, but caught up and carried away by the end.
L’Ouverture Des Fosses will be released by Caligari Records on June 29, in a tape edition limited to 150 copies. Pre-order via the link below.