Riti Occulti are a strange band. They play doom, they hail from Italy, they prefer a bass guitar to a six-stringed axe, and their vocal department consists of a goth-like, beauty-and-the-beast duo. To be more specific, the band uses only bass guitar and the two female vocalists alternate between black-metal rasps and operatic clean vox. Topping it off, the band coats everything in a thick layer of synthesizers and moody effects (many times performed using a dreaded keytar). But, it isn’t as bad as it seems. And it’s only gotten better since their debut in 2012. Serena Mastracco’s rasps have matured significantly and her constant battle against Elisabetta Marchetti’s clean vocals has developed into the no-holds-barred death match fans have been waiting for. All of the elements seem terrifying on their own, but Riti Occulti have somehow found a way to make them work.
Two albums ago you would have never guessed this would work. Debut album Riti Occulti was about as sparse of clean vocals as a kvlty black metal record. Mastracco’s rasps ruled the nest and Marchetti’s cleans served only as the eerie background to a shitty horror soundtrack. Thankfully, the band realized Marchetti’s true potential on 2013’s Secta; even if combining her clean voice with Mastracco’s bland, yet venomous, rasps was still a mystery. With Tetragrammaton, however, damn-near everything works. Maybe not all the time and not near enough to shoot this up to a “great” album, but this outing shows the band’s true potential. The bass-led riffs make sense, the drums (finally) work, and the dueling vocal styles intertwine as intended. As for the overall songwriting: this is a continuation of Secta, but with greater cohesion and structure.
Tetragrammaton is essentially a nine-track album consisting of a tetra-logy, followed by the band’s usual mix of weird and random. The “Adonai” tetra-logy inhabits the first half of the album while the remaining tracks support the back half. The result is an album that feels like two EPs smashed together. This isn’t a bad thing and I don’t want it to sound that way. There is still cohesiveness and flow between the two halves and the subtle changes to approach keeps the album from turning stale.
After the pointless opening instrumental, “Invocation of the Protective Angels,” “Adonai I” brings on the bassy, raspy doom. Like “Adonai III,” the rasps take the lead on this first cut of the tetra-logy, but Marchetti’s clean voice slips in and out of this harsh landscape like an operatic sidewinder. Once the thrusting bass, pounding drums, and accenting barks conclude, the vocal roles switch places for part two. Marchetti takes hold of the intro to “Adonai II;” weaving her voice through the synthesized moods with beautiful, stoner-ish sopranos. But, once her voice achieves hypnosis, the song takes a sharp U-turn back to the band’s black, dooming roots. Marchetti’s cleans also lead the closing number of the four-piece set; adding a ballady flavor to the growing bass and synthy mood of “Adonai IV.” But, as with the previous tracks, Mastracco seeks vengeance. Her voice resurfacing and shattering the song’s foundation like a blackened avalanche.
At the conclusion of the tetra-logy, the band shifts gears to the odd, Orphaned Land-ish “Atziluth.” If you know Riti Occulti, you know this is nothing new for the band. It seems to be a rule that they have at least one exotic, bouzouki-led number per release. Unfortunately, everything else about the song is rather typical—a trait that also befalls the blind meandering of “Yetzirah” a couple tracks later. The best songs on the back-half of Tetragrammaton have to be “Beri’Ah” and closer “Assiah.” Not only that, but these two may be the best on the album. Every member contributes to the whole and the competing vocal styles mesh beautifully. “Beri’Ah” achieves this via melancholic passion while the closer tears through the countryside like a bassy earthquake.
After two soul-searching albums, it appears the band has found their doomy heart. Tetragrammaton may not be the doom album of the year, but this is the band’s best release to date. Unfortunately, there are a couple duds and the master is so squashed it could be consumed as wine. If you can get past these minor setbacks, you might discover the unique qualities of Tetragrammaton.