The promo pit holds certain occupational hazards depending on the genre tag. Looking for some black metal? Better hit Google first, lest the band be full of dip shits or dip shit associates (rhymes with Yahtzee). Post-metal sounding tasty? Hope you don’t bite into a metalcore sandwich. Tech-death tickle your fancy? Better sleep with one eye open, because Kronos will find you, kill you, take the promo from your twitching hand and publish a very nice review before your body is even cold. I’m naturally drawn to tags that promise something slow and heavy, so when I saw “blackened doom” next to the name Nibiru, you’d forgive me if visions of another Indian danced in my head. In reality, Salbrox, the sixth full length by these Italians, would be better described as spoken word noise/drone metal. This curve ball may have knocked some reviewers off balance, but bitch, I went to art school. I’ve heard post-everything noise experiments that would make John Cage go “Dude, that’s pretty out there.”
Opener “Ehnb” is a nearly 15-minute gauntlet thrown down. The longest track, it is a riffless, pulsating squall of creaking feedback beneath the rasped raving of vocalist Ardat. Calling his delivery “theatrical” would be something of an understatement, as he growls, croaks and chokes out words, switching between “ancestral Enochian language” and Italian throughout Salbrox. Being a typical monolinguistic American doofus, the details are lost on me. The spirit, however, is easily discernible. At its core, this is ritual music. Specifically, this is Enochian Magick music. I’ll let you Ask Jeeves about the finer points yourself, but this involves an apocryphal ancient Hebrew text, 16th century spirit mediums, Aleister Crowley and some Victorian cosplayers, and the alchemical purging of inner impurities, Ego and the desire for anything approaching traditional song structures. If 15 minutes of Ardat talking like a monster—and sometimes laughing for effect—in an obscure language over guitar noise doesn’t drive you away, you’ll like the atmospheric trance that follows. If you struggle with it, I’m afraid it doesn’t get much better.
The main strength of Salbrox is its consistently constructed atmosphere. It’s no secret that many purveyors of drone doom lean hard into minimalism, but Nibiru build deceptively layered compositions even as individual instruments rarely seem like they get much to do. It also goes without saying that guitar tone is monumentally important, and thankfully, the album sports a truly monumental guitar tone. Drummer L. C. Chertan supplements this occasionally with big, simple beats as well as more ritualistic rhythms. However you may feel about an individual track on Salbrox, the overall album composition shows a band that knows how to keep things varied, but unified.
In what is already a hard to appreciate sub-genre, Nibiru unfortunately follow tropes and cliches much too closely. You want a thump-thumping heart beat sound underpinning the noise? Look no further than opener “Ehnb.” Random cymbal crashes? “Hcoma.” Minimal piano plonking over electric static? “Bitom.” Vocalist trying his best to sound cray cray? *Gestures broadly at album* And the kicker is that for every element explored in Salbrox, similar bands have done it better. However unhinged Ardat attempts to sound vocally, and no matter how squalling the guitars or ritualistic the drums, Nibiru can’t approach the emotional chaos of Khanate. Even with more straight-forward song structures, Gnaw are palpably weirder. When Salbrox gives us a more traditional drum backbone and the guitars coalesce into simple riffs, they don’t carry the same minimalist groove as proto-Sunn O))) band Burning Witch. On the track “Abalpt,” there is an old recording of someone chant-speaking a strange tongue, presumably Enochian. It’s a novelty that isn’t particularly well integrated, and only reminds me that The Body‘s song “Empty Hearth” mixes a weird religious field recording with noise/doom in a far superior way.
There are things to like about Salbrox if you are already inclined towards noise/drone metal, but familiarity with the genre will also reveal its weaknesses. The Enochian Magick schtick and use of its obscure language does set Nibiru apart somewhat, but it’s an element that is just as likely to alienate as attract potential listeners. This may catch on with people looking for that “vague dark ritual” fix, but I don’t see myself returning to it anytime soon.