Italy’s Abysmal Grief have been doing horror-themed doomed things for 22 years. That’s a lot of time to be doing anything, perhaps enough that one might expect downright brilliance, but riddle me this: when’s the last time you encountered a brilliant 22-year-old? Sure, managing to not die for 20+ years might inherently create an illusion of maturity and shit-having-togetherness, but keep in mind that there is at least one 29-year-old man out there — we’ll just call him “Bob” — who believes that planet Earth is flat and that airplanes grant wishes. My point: age is not necessarily indicative of wisdom. Blasphema Secta is the fifth full-length by a band with over two decades of experience, but how much have they really learned from their time in the crypt?
The heavy Hammonded instrumental “Intro (The Occult Lore)” parts the sepulchral doors and checks off all the required horror doom boxes with creepy keyboards, eerie ambient effects and a foreboding monologue, revealing the first lesson that Abysmal Grief have taken to their undead hearts: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Standard tropes of the genre make their obligatory appearances throughout the album, yet their haunting presence is consistently inflicted tastefully enough that the end result feels more like receiving wisdom from the dead rather than beating their horses. Ominous incantations on “Witchlord” give the song character despite a slightly stilted delivery, and the wind sounds connecting each track facilitate cohesion while affecting an atmosphere akin to finding oneself in a classic horror film. Approaching footsteps, screams in the distance, The Organ of Doom®… it’s all here, and it may have been everywhere else before, but lesson one tells us that this is ok. Who needs innovation when you already know what works?
The stock sonic stage props might not warrant eye-rolling from those prowling the Angry Metal Catacombs for Abysmal Grief‘s particular take on metal — this is Italian horror doom, after all — but the unimaginative songwriting is a bane on all genres, and no amount of cult-y chatter can bury that particular body. To wit, every offering on Blasphema Secta lurks in one musical shadow or other for just a little too long, usually thanks to vocalist/keyboardist Labes C Necrothytus’s obsession with repeating keyboard melodies. This brings us to lesson two: sometimes less is more. I’m not trying to blow anyone’s mind here, but I don’t need to hear a melody or riff 666 times before I’m able to move on to the rest of the song. Furthermore, “When Darkness Prevails” benefits no one with its presence, an instrumental interlude of sorts comprised of chimes, keyboards and Halloween sounds dragged out for over five minutes and 100% unnecessary. Proceed with caution, for here there be filler.
With all of this talk about things that affect the music out of the way, let’s talk about, I dunno, the music. It’s true that this corpse suffers some bloat, and there may even be a touch of cheese around the edges, but there’s no denying that the music of Blasphema Secta itself is some quality stuff. Guitarist Regen Graves plots a straightforward yet entertaining course through all the right rockin’ doom territory, his six strings o’ gloom wandering the stylistic burial grounds of such acts as Ghost, Orange Goblin, and Stillborn, crafting the solid — though somewhat unambitious — rhythms and riffs that make tracks like “Ruthless Profaners” and “Behold the Corpse Revived” downright fun. Think The Necromancers with Lordi’s keyboardist doing My Dying Bride things with 85% of any of those bands’ songwriting capabilities, and you’ll be in the right graveyard. Moreover, for all his sins of repetition on the keys, Necrothytus repents with his killer vocals. The dude’s voice is made for the material, alternating between unsettling breathy, rasping cleans and truly evil harsh vocals which lend themselves to these songs of the occult so very, very well.
All in all, it’s clear that Abysmal Grief have learned a trick or two over the years, even if they still haven’t managed to completely master doomin’ it. The music of Blasphema Secta is strong more often than not, and despite preferring the output of several other bands doing their thing this January I can safely say that “Witchlord” is the Muppet Song o’ the Year so far. While I would typically hope for tighter songwriting from so seasoned an act, there’s no denying that Abysmal Grief know what they’re doing, and they could certainly be dooming worse.