The latin phrase “Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius” comes from an incident in the early 13th century known as the Massacre at Béziers. The ironically named Pope Innocent II had declared a crusade against those he identified as heretics in Northern France, and the first town his assembled force attacked was the well-fortified town of Béziers. As the siege developed, it became a massacre, with more disciplined soldiers losing control of the mercenaries in the force who massacred the people, pillaged the town and ultimately burned it to the ground. The Massacre at Béziers has become emblematic of religion gone mad, persecution in its most extreme and dangerous incarnation, not just for the degree of the bloodshed, but for its indiscriminate-ness. Because, even by Pope Innocent II’s impossible standards, there were Catholics – non-heretics – living in Béziers as well, but when asked by his forces how they were to tell the difference between the faithful and the heretics, the Pope replied, “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius” — Kill them all, for the Lord will know his own.
The bone-chilling, soul-shattering evil of that statement is channelled in Abyssal‘s second full-length album. The UK-based experimental black and doom metal band have created something infernal with Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius. The atmosphere is thick and heavy, all blood and brimstone and rancid decay. The guitar tone is thick as smoke and scab, foul and clotting, and the riff structures well up sickly like plasma from an old wound. The vocals are the most distorted aspect of their sound, heavily filtered and alien, and imbued with an unholy plurality, as though issuing from several mouths at once. It’s a album that swallows the listener, weird and ravenous.
The album alternates between brief, blazing and often instrumental experimental passages and longer, more structures songs. The short interludes are the strangest and most alienating moments, each playing with a different combination of sense impressions and emotional registers. “Forbode” is a brooding, leering series of sounds that ratchets up the tension; “Elegy of Ruin” is a liquid, wailing moment of drowning anguish; “Elegy of Staves” pairs a martial, industrial throb with eerie, hellish sounds.
While these brief, engaging blights in the album add texture and depth, it’s the longer tracks that delve deeper into the marrow of the music. With most tracks coming in around eight minutes in length, each has time and space to swell and develop it’s own power. Each track has it’s own way of developing, but they share a similar structure, twisting ever tighter like the coils of a vast boa constrictor, squeezing the life out of the listener. “Tongue of the Demagogue” is all welts and blisters, while “Under the Wretched Sun of Hattin” has a shambling, unbalanced menace. “Created Sick; Commanded To Be Well” has a blighted military cadence that ratchets up the tension, while closing track “The Last King” builds towards a broken crescendo of madness.
With Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius, Abyssal gesture towards Portal (though more ordered) and Deathspell Omega (though the tone is even more corrupted). Saturated with malice, stinking of dark, it is a relentlessly heavy experimental black and doom creation with the stench of death clinging to its most aggressive moments. A great balance of challenge and catharsis, this is a brutal and atmospheric album that is both intelligent and sadistic.