A lot can happen to people over time. Take me, for instance; my 20-year high school reunion is coming this year, and I can pretty much guarantee that very few people who don’t follow me on a daily basis are going to have a hard time believing that who I am and who I was are the same people. With plenty of tattoos and hair on my face (and little on my head), I know more than a few heads will turn. Wicher, the debut album from Polish pagan metal barbarians Sacrilegium, also turns twenty this year. Until now, it was the band’s only full-length output, given that the band disbanded in 2000. With vocalist Nantur Aldaron and guitarist/bassist Suclagus reforming Sacrilegium last year with a new line-up, so too comes a severe musical shift from Nokturnal Mortum-esque pagan mysticism to the melodic black metal found in today’s subject of scrutiny, Anima Lucifera. And man, what an about-face this is!
The only other band I can compare such a severe shift to with this album would be the long-missed December Wolves. Just as the shift from the latter’s folky-yet-bloated Til Ten Years to its immediate follow-up, the criminally underrated and utterly visceral Completely Dehumanized, was drastic yet effective, the switch found here from long-winded icy pagan metal to hook-laden Hypocrisy riffage is both alarming and welcome. Opener “Preludium/Heavenwings Shrugged” starts off with a melancholic arpeggio beneath a solemn lead melody before drummer Armeus comes in with some fills, giving the song an almost classic metal feel. That’s until Nantur starts rasping, sounding like a younger, angrier Lemmy. Nantur has largely grown away from the traditional black metal rasp for something a bit grimier and uglier, which is also a welcome progression. For the rest of the song, it’s blast beats, ridiculously windmill-inducing tremolo riffs, and barely constrained chaos before stopping on a dime about five minutes later.
Sacrilegium keeps this crazed pace up throughout Anima Lucifera‘s entirety. “Mare Tenebrarum” has a strong early-Vader vibe in the riffs. “Venomous Spell of Fate” slows things a hair to allow the song to build a nice groove towards the song’s middle part, complete with a soaring guitar solo at 2:58. Standout “…and Soul” starts off with some trippy ambiance and a soft piano softly plinking away, but soon gives way to some nice mid-paced Dimmu Borgir-esque majesty (think more Spiritual Black Dimensions and less tauntauns). In fact, the album doesn’t contain a single bad song.
Anima Lucifera‘s biggest weakness is too much similarity between songs. Normally, this is a bad thing, but Sacrilegium managed to hold my attention just through sheer intensity and icy-cold conviction. My other bone to pick would be the production, as the bass is practically non-existent and Suclagus’ guitars could use a little more heft. That latter part definitely needs some attention, as Suclagus has proven to be quite an expert guitarist and songwriter, layering incredible riffs and melodies on top of each other effortlessly. Couple that with the quick 43-minute runtime, and this here writer kept coming back after closer “Anima Lucifera/Epilog” faded into the sunset.
I’m not recommending anyone take an extended leave of absence stretching into decades, but if it ends up producing results like Anima Lucifera, then who am I to complain? March is turning into one helluva great month for metal, and Sacrilegium made quite the comeback statement. Welcome back, guys. Enjoy your stay.