As suggested by Neige of Alcest, dreams can be a truly inspirational medium to audial art. Personifying places and feelings of the dream world into those of a musical one can produce music that has both character and a buttload of passion behind it (even if the music is shit). Gonius Rex (the man behind Portugal’s Onirik) is another musician that taps into his own REMs for inspiration. In Rex’s case, these dreams manifest themselves into a much darker expression of black metal; one that emphasizes complete awareness and the seizing of one’s earthly existence. With that line of thought, you can probably guess that 2015’s Casket Dream Veneration is submersed deeply in the ’90s roots of Norwegian black metal and not the shoegaze stylings of Alcest. Past releases, Songs for the Apocalypse and Spectre, were simple, mid-’90s Darkthrone; with a captivating Culto and Fenriz approach, a delivery as harsh as this coming winter, and a production as raw as my chaffing thighs [No. – HR Department]. But 2009’s After Centuries of Silence found Rex opening the Doors of Diversity and experimenting with varying vocals and melody that left mourning in its wake. After a six-year hiatus, Onirik is back with an outing that closely trails its precursor and, at the same time, upps the ante in songwriting and production. Let’s venerate.
“Requiem for a Profane Liberation” triggers this oblong nightmare with immediate black-metal chanting and dissonant chords that eventually transition into unsettling Darkthrone-inspired bends. Just as the song begins to settle in, Dissection-esque melodic atmospheres take hold in a way that are almost hypnotic and oddly soothing. These latter touches of ambiance make a much greater presence on Casket Dream Veneration than on previous releases, especially on tracks like “Invocation and Defiance,” the title track, and closer “Versos de um Ritual.” All build the tension with wispy clean vocals that gently layer the harsh rasps, driving tremolos, and constant kicks. I wouldn’t call it post-black but there are similarities to the approach found on the older Alcest material.
Along with the melodic layers that blanket this coffin like a fresh coat of black varnish, Gonius Rex spreads his wings via intricate guitar leads and a performance that snatches the album from the clutches of typical Norwegian-styled black metal. The opener’s Dissection-like fretboard cruise, the doomy Watain leads toward the end of “Reverent to the Flames,” and the memorable riffage of “Ascension and Descent” break up the monotonous tremolos and predictable songwriting. These flavorings create a landscape that’s difficult to discover upon the first listen but deepens with subsequent spins.
With a forty-five minute runtime, there’s a lot to take in. Spending most of its time at a mid-paced speed, Casket relies tremendously on mixing each song up and making them both memorable and cohesive. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Songs like “Invocation and Defiance,” “Ascension and Descent,” and “Versos de um Ritual” do a fine job of incorporating the black with melody, while splattering it with solid performances and memorable guitar work. Unfortunately, “I Am Him But He’s Not Me” doesn’t quite work and the prayer-like, lightning-quick delivery of some of the vocals are awkward. Follow-up, “Disputant by Enlightenment” does little to help and is so similar to its predecessor that it quells replay value.
While I enjoy After Centuries of Silence just a touch more than Casket, this new release trumps all previous outings in the production department with a clarity to the rawness that allows the listener to touch the bass and feel those whirling guitar leads wash over them. That very audible bass performance is credited to hired gun, The Heretic and his contributions on songs like “Ascension and Descent” are quite appreciated. The drums, on the other hand, are overly relaxed and predictable and with a mix that puts them toward the back, they really don’t do much to better the other performances. Overall, Casket Dream Veneration is a rebirth for Rex that apparently has already resulted in a completed follow-up. With this rejuvenation it will be interesting to see where the new era of Onirik will take us.