Rigor Sardonicous – Praeparet Bellum Review

What have the Romans ever done for us? Apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health? According to Rigor Sardonicous, a language to use as an idiosyncratic gimmick. Their name, and the majority of their song and album titles are in Latin, Praeparet Bellum—roughly, Prepare for War—being no exception. It marks their return after an eleven-year hiatus but seems to more or less pick up from where Ego Diligio Vos left off. Low-fi, grimy death-doom so low it’s barely within the range of human hearing, and so gritty and slow it feels like drowning in a vast quantity of sand. The duo pride themselves on a longstanding existence alongside the earliest originators of funeral doom, and their music does somewhat resemble that subgenre in its foot-dragging pace and gravelly tone. But it is simultaneously atmosphere-less, and uninteresting. In the end, Rigor Sardonicous’ overcommitment to monotony makes everything feel flat, and paradoxically shallow.

Praeparet Bellum is almost entirely the exact same all the way through. The pace, the riffs, the vocals, all merge together into a sort of grey sludge. This could be an effective battering ram to the skull if the album were given a fuller production. But it isn’t. It could be bearable if there were additional elements—extra instruments or synths for example—spliced in. As it is, the bare-bones approach brings the uniformity into sharp and abrasive relief. Not helping are the cookie-cutter, meme-worthy gutturals that gurgle dully without an ounce of real presence. Even at their lowest (“Sanguinem Floralibus Luna,” “Unholy Sonnet 10”) they lack that rumble that enables like death growls to shake your core, and so sound wet and hollow. I understand that this is an aesthetic, a ‘vibe’, to be as low, slow, and ugly as possible. But an aesthetic can’t come at the cost of good music.

What is perhaps the most egregious facet to Praeparet Bellum, is that the programmed drums are more interesting than the human-played guitars. To say nothing of the vocals. Interesting being a relative term, because they do mainly plod along like the guitars, with imperceptible variation. But sometimes (“Terra Mota Est,” “Vita Cantus,” “Ex Finitim”) there are what one might generously call rollovers; beat pattern experimentation, and just generally a bit more zhuzh. When the album reaches its higher moments, it’s the percussion that leads the way. Take the emphatic fluidity that precipitates the arrival of a prominent, evil guitar line (“Vita Cantus”). Or the eerily echoing cymbal crashes that pierce the smog of “Voluntatem Dei.” The latter track is arguably the best cut of the bunch, as it possesses true weight through ringing, bell-pierced atmosphere and sinister melodic refrains. Much like the drumming, however, this song’s superiority is relative, and its nine-minute stretch really starts to drag as it descends like its brethren into stale repetition.

There are few unmentioned positives. The pair play their instruments competently, but with so little vigor. Joseph J. Fogarazzo’s vocal approach isn’t inherently awful—I can see it being effective in another musical context. But combined with the blandness of its instrumental accompaniment, and exacerbated by the low-fi production, it’s gratingly wet and impactless. Clocking in at roughly fifty minutes, Praeparet Bellum is also a slog to get through. On every listen I found myself checking how much of each song remained, as well as to remind myself of which song was actually playing. Because repeat listens are not enough to distinguish these crusty compositions from one another.

Ultimately, Rigor Sardonicous have just not made a memorable album. Their name means “sardonic rigor,” from which one could infer they don’t take themselves too seriously, and that all this ugliness is a satire. Whether or not this is the case doesn’t make Praeparet Bellum any more interesting, enjoyable, or heavy.

Rating: Bad
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Memento Mori
Websites: rigorsardonicous1.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/RigorSardonicous.Official
Releases Worldwide: January 23rd, 2023

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