Five doom/death songs comprising sixty minutes of music is a risky proposition that lives and dies by one thing: riffs. If you’re going to write songs that average out to twelve minutes in length, the riffs contained within had better be interesting, dynamic, and, of course, crushing. Germany’s Ophis, comprised of members from various German metal bands including the excellent Thranenkind, Sakramortem, and Faulnis, present us with an hour of metal in the form of five doom/death songs on Abhorrence in Opulence, their third full-length album and follow-up to 2010’s solid Withered Shades. This raises an obvious question: did Ophis write both the riffs and songs necessary to make repeated spins of Abhorrence in Opulence worthwhile?
The answer, thankfully, is yes. Ophis’ M.O. doesn’t sound too impressive on paper (play crushing riffs with some melodic riffs, speed up a bit sometimes), but it sounds damn good on wax due to the performers’ instrumental prowess and compositional skills. There’s a lot going on and much to digest in each of the five songs presented here, but Ophis avoids making long songs feel drawn out or the numerous transitions in each feel ill-conceived or forced. Abhorrence in Opulence brings together the suffocating brutality of Ataraxie and Evoken, with the melodic melancholy of My Dying Bride and early Anathema, and they do both with confidence, producing impressive results. “Resurrectum,” the last and best track on the album, not only brings together the above elements flawlessly, but also manages to incorporate a great midsection riff straight out of Asphyx’s early years and a blasting end that brings vintage Incantation to mind. “Among the Falling Stones” is another standout, featuring a small string section that pushes the guitars to the background and is ridiculously effective at setting a beautiful, somber, contemplative mood; a welcome diversion from the doom/death maelstrom.
Even whilst playing riffs that hit like sledgehammers, Ophis manage to make great use of subtlety. The slight reverb on Phil’ Kruppa’s screamed vocals bring classic Burzum to mind, but are used sparingly enough to make their appearance effective and visceral. Riffs underneath the lead melodies shift and slither instead of merely playing in the background, showing great attention to detail and lending Abhorrence in Opulence a good amount of replay value. That said, there are a couple of relatively minor flaws here. Ophis leans pretty heavily on their My Dying Bride-isms, which isn’t an inherently bad thing, but with this insistence on melody in the riffs, I’m left wanting a bit more variety in the vocals. Kruppa has a powerful growl that works wonders over the more brutal riffs and lends a nice contrast to the melodies, but this trick can only be used so often. While he does try his hand at a Tom G. Warrior croak-croon in the beginning of “Somnolent Despondency,” this could have been left out entirely and the album wouldn’t suffer for it.
The other issue present is a non dynamic production showcasing dynamic songs. Abhorrence in Opulence clocks in at a near-brickwalled DR6, and it lessens the impact of the band’s music, such as when they come crashing back in after a clean guitar interlude during “Among the Falling Stones.” The drumming by Nils Groth, while superb and tasteful in performance, is damaged a bit here too. His kick drums sound okay, but it’s obvious that with a better mastering job they could have been the gut-punch that the songs here call for. The guitars sound decent though, and both Kruppa and Martin Reibold turn in standout performances with some truly great riffs, consistently entertaining interplay, and well thought-out melodies. Even Oliver Kroplin’s bass pokes its head out consistently, although it rarely deviates from the tried-and-true “play what the rhythm guitarist plays” technique.
All told, Abhorrence in Opulence is an engaging listen that doesn’t really do anything new, but performs the old tricks with enough flair and attention to detail that it is certainly worth taking notice of and giving an hour of listening time to, especially if you happen to enjoy any of the bands mentioned in this review. Ophis have succeeded in making my neck sore and my heart ache, and have done so with great riffs and excellent songwriting, making me want to come back for more punishment again and again. Highly recommended.