Simply put, Obscurations (To Feast on the Seraphim), the début by one-man band Ritual Chamber, is easily an archetype of how “evil” music should sound. Guitar riffs and growled vocals rise from a gutter filled with tortured souls, putrid bile drips from drum kicks and rumbling bass lines, and a general atmosphere of rot and despair fills each and every song. Cliché as it may seem, it’s dread incarnated: at its best, it’s chilling, at its worse, even more so. Bay Area-based Dario J. Derna might be an upstanding citizen, a dad, and a husband by day, but once he assumes the persona of Numinas, well, you better cower and hide.
Filth. That’s the word of the day. That’s the word you’ll first be trying to g(r)asp for while listening to Ritual Chamber. The music might snake from slow to fast, from dissonant to shyly melodic, but the existential, spiritual sense of filth and looseness never fades and is exacerbated by pseudophilosophical, quasi-satanic yet strangely fitting lyrics. At the same time, there’s the noticeable impact of an invisible hand at work; arranging, guiding the meticulous creation, and carefully placing elements in the music. As if behind all of this inhuman grime there was a cleverly designed, clinical process that leaves nothing to chance. Even the introductory demonic sounds, growling and tearing at flesh, feel processed and wittily emphasized, the result of some kind of wicked Foley work. Having played in a number of death, black, and doom metal bands (Krohm – his other solo project, Drawn and Quartered, Evoken, etc.) in various roles, Derna once again demonstrates he has the chops, enough creativity, and self-control to single-handedly pull off a successful death metal album based on a mixture of old school traditions, while also drawing heavily from many other, younger death metal styles. You might find hints of Deathspell Omega, Morbid Angel, and Cannibal Corpse scattered throughout the cuts, but rest assured that most of these are done with measure and taste.
There are three songs, two of them selected to be ambassadors for this release, that justify the existence of Obscurations (To Feast on the Seraphim) by themselves. The first of these, “Beings of Entropy,” is what made me lust after the record to begin with. The massive and excruciatingly nasty opening riff, the suffocating, drowning-in-tar stream of bass and drums pouring through the walls, and the unexpectedly catchy solo all twisted into a varied, dynamic song rooted in Incantation’s sort of death metal. On the other hand, “Void Indoctrination” with its smoldering tremolos and the death-gone-doom, unnaturally slow “A Parasitic Universe” were tunes that kept me coming back. There’s a bit of everything and everyone mixed in Ritual Chamber’s approach, with Derna reinventing himself slightly from song to song, but keeping the mood steadily oppressive and dire. The album is not without its flaws, though, with the buzzing “The Aphotic Dread” and the overly long closer “As Dust and the Animal” making most obvious the record’s drops into generic and somewhat bland territories. Even songs like the generally pleasing “The Eternal Eye” have a tendency to dissolve into poorly defined madness before being pieced back together, with mixed results.
Looking at the quality of one-man band releases during the years, one gets the feel that, while generally hit-or-miss as with all other bands, the quality-to-quantity ratio leans in their favour (Leviathan, Necrophagist, and Panopticon, to name just a few). Taking control of all segments of the music creation process, they act with a single-minded focus, but are also forced to deal with a more painful incubation period, foregoing the support, creativity, and direction of other members. While freeing, such an approach brings its own bag of problems. Ritual Chamber demonstrates this in full, crafting a thoroughly enjoyable if at times flawed record. From a technical standpoint, Derna’s solid musicianship, regardless of instrument, is sustained by a bassy, heavy and surprisingly dynamic sound that muddles the guitars and drums just enough to bring out and accentuate the riffs’ sludginess and the drums’ muffled kicks, yet that never masks their tone.
Coming on the heels of the solid and generally lauded demo The Pits of Tentacled Screams, Obscurations (To Feast on the Seraphim) is a well-rounded and thought-out follow-up and a worthy “proper” debut. If nothing else, it’s the fascinating sense of demonic, otherworldly putrescence and the oft ingenious, borderline catchy riffs that make it a compelling, easily recommendable listen.