It’s become a bit of a hobby in my time here to make metaphors about the barrenness of the promo bin: no man’s land, the slowly depleting arctic, or the lifeless eastern New Mexico landscape where I spent six years of my life. Case in point: while we lowly contributors labor in vain teaching at Promo Bin Middle School, we put up with metalcore shitheads apathetically texting while we’re teaching and black metal nerds threatening to fight us over manga correctness. Meanwhile, the quiet drone achievers spend their time fucking up the class average in both directions. Getting a student recommendation from the principal is a huge deal for class chemistry and can go both ways, either the biggest disappointment ever or a star pupil who will inspire generations to come. This was my concern when I saw ambient black metal group Ancient Moon stamped with the “editor’s recommendation” tag.
Little is known about this group; we know that it includes three members,1 is signed to the prolific Iron Bonehead Productions, and exists as a cross-continental project across Belgium, France, and Switzerland. Benedictus Diabolica, Gloria Patri,2 is their sophomore effort, attempting to outdo 2015’s impressive Vvltvre and a solid split with the mysterious Prosternatur. Similar to the obscure offerings of Deathspell Omega and Death. Void. Terror., Ancient Moon‘s trademark sound is steeped in enigma and murk, relying on immensely textured layers and influences of ritualism and hypnotic repetition. Preferring to let music speak for itself, Ancient Moon offers a scathing work of art that defies explanation but demands attention.
Vvltvre and the Prosternatur split were no-holds-barred efforts that felt much like Batushka‘s Litourgiya in relative accessibility, depleting all tricks up their collective sleeves with an assortment of Gregorian chant passages and tastefully brutal blackened riffs alongside a variety of vocal shrieks, groans, whispers, and chanting. They were incredibly solid endeavors, conjuring visceral images of religious ceremonies and macabre blasphemy in equal measure. Benedictus…, however, is an exercise in restraint and tension, as established techniques are used sparingly in favor of effective simplicity. Each of the two tracks, named “Benedictus Diabolica, Gloria Patri, Pt. I” and “Benedictus Diabolica, Gloria Patri, Pt. II,” is built around a deceptively simple, densely raw riff upon which layers of dark (nearly ritual) ambiance, noise, and manic vocals are piled. While these ambient black metal techniques sound generic as fuck, Ancient Moon‘s interpretation is tantalizingly evasive, its subtle hints of jagged melody drip like icicles of frozen sewer muck and morbidly unpredictable vocal delivery emerge like formless monsters from the deep amid the raw and crashing waves of the subterranean watery abyss, often all at once. While I noticed and appreciated the album more and more with each listen, I could never shake the feeling of bewilderment, and it kept me coming back for more.
As portraits of pitch-black fill my head with each macrocosmic passage, the minute details of the dense chaos prove to be even further intriguing, such as the complex opening riff of part 1 or the mountainous pummeling passages in the middle of part 2. At face value, it sounds like blaring chaos, but upon closer listening one finds the elements of guitar, drums, vocals, and ambiance expertly and intricately engineered to manufacture sinister atmosphere of dread, overwhelmingly unsettling and ominous. As such, I recognize that Benedictus Diabolica, Gloria Patri will not appeal to everyone, due to its punishingly inaccessible atmosphere—there are moments in which the unsettling becomes nearly cloddish, such as the off-key organ passage at the end of part 1.
The only groups to which I can really compare Ancient Moon are Deathspell Omega, Death. Void. Terror., split pals Prosternatur, and in small part Mizmor, but only due to shared enigma and use of black metal as preferred medium. Benedictus Diabolica, Gloria Patri is a dense and mysterious album, oozing liturgical miasma and scorching in its blackened intricacies. It’s appropriately raw, densely challenging, and tantalizingly dichotomous, pairing blasphemous fury with religious reverie. Tastefully brief at thirty-eight minutes, it never overstays its welcome and each passage feels organically fleshed out and the final product feels far more than the sum of its parts. There are small moments where their expertly engineered dread crosses the fine line between unsettling and awkward, but it’s a B on a five-point quiz compared to the A+ on the hundred-point project. Student recommendation indeed: get lost in this perplexing abyss.