Noctu – Gelidae Mortis Imago Review

When I hear the term “funeral doom,” several words immediately come to mind: slow, reeeally fucking slow, crushing, monolithic, etc. I’m moved to many turns ov phrase in the presence of funeral doom, yet one word which rarely plods to the forefront of my funereal lexicon is also one which I cannot avoid when discussing the genre: what is “funeral,” Alex? Perhaps it’s a Muppet thing, but most funeral doom albums don’t evoke funerals. That said, statistically speaking, most funeral doom albums also aren’t Noctu’s Gelidae Mortis Imago. Gelidae is the second full-length solo album released by Italian doomster Noctu (Atra Mors, Ghostlord, Necromist), and let me tell you, this thing positively reeks of funeral bidness.1

Gelidae is a fascinating thing, but it does not give one fuck about your feelings, and every second of every sound herein transpires for the sole purpose of utterly stifling the listener. The vocals are about as joyous and pleasant as whacking one’s funny bone off of a rusted iron cactus, the guitar tone sounds as though it was dialed in by these guys, and not only are there ambient interludes between every song, but the last of these—“Isolato Da Un Mondo Senza Speranza”—is a Bell Witching 32 minutes long2. A languid array of tortured screeching, eerily ethereal atmospherics, and bilious, bone-dry guitars is assembled into a 74-minute monster hellbent on making itself unloveable. Even devout fans of the genre might find themselves less enamored with Gelidae than they might typically expect.

User mileage will vary, as with any album, but the fact that Noctu has a truly commanding grasp on musical atmosphere is not up for debate. Each track is an exercise in sonic imagery, creating worlds and playing out lives through sound alone; I may not speak Italian, but my imagination speaks music, and when I listen to Gelidae I hear a funeral. From the beginning, “Fitte Tenebre (Le Radici Dell’ Inferno)” captures the morbidly celebratory essence that accompanies pre-interment congregation, with its simultaneously dirgeful yet bizarrely revelrous plodding pianos and droning, swirling choir vocals. “Lucida Oscurità,” with its descending organ progressions and masterful applications of negative musical space, is the somber sound of the ground consuming a casket, complete with the resultant flood of mortality that surges in the moments immediately thereafter, rendered by a somewhat Saturnuscent doomy guitar solo which swells in the wake of a suspenseful lull. The capstone is the behemoth “Isolato,” a half-hour fire n’ brimstone sermon on death itself—as opposed to a reverently candid celebration of the life that has passed—delivered via rotting blackened doom, increasingly discomforting ambiance and ominous chants interspersed with snarled incantations.

Though the evocative strength of Gelidae’s successes is admirable on many levels, the album is not without its flaws. Three of its six tracks are ambient/instrumental interludes; none are essential. At best I’ll concede that the eerie Beethoven adaptation and cheesetastic horror-movie scream found on opener “Suicidio Al Chiaro Di Luna” establish a theatrical vibe and flow for the rest of the album. The other two, however, are both sandwiched between the respective fadings in and out of their neighboring tracks, negating their validity as moments of respite. Further adding to the bloat is a particular passage on “Isolato” during which listeners enjoy breathy, ambient shrieks which fade in and out repeatedly yet fail to either build or release any significant momentum. This lackadaisical lull, coupled with the needless detours of tracks 1, 3, and 4, is an unpleasant and noticeable bump on an otherwise astonishingly smooth ride, something that somewhat ruins the experience for me and which ultimately plants itself between Gelidae and The Holden Numeral.

When I first saw this album on Bandcamp, boldly declaring its scented promotional deviance, I thought “What the fuck?” When it emerged in the promo pit and I glanced at its track lengths, I observed “Isolato” and thought “What the fuck have I gotten myself into?” When the final notes of that same track faded out for the first time, I removed my headphones with trembling hands and thought “What the fuck just happened to me? Also, how much fucking coffee did I drink today?” There’s a good chance that this album is either too funeral or too doom for many of you precious COVID factories; it is not intended to be an easy listen, and it is not entirely free of fault, but it is a mesmerizing thing of artistic triumph nonetheless.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Transcending Obscurity Records
Websites: | 
Releases Worldwide: May 15th, 2020

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Literally, yo’s. The physical packaging is actually scented with “traces of flowers which are usually showered upon tombs,” a move which I profess to have found absurd until I actually experienced the album for myself.
  2. It’s worth noting that’s actually longer than most funerals. – Steel
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