Coming from the Latin “splendidus,” “splendid” is defined—by one (free) online dictionary that this n00b found, anyway—as an adjective meaning “magnificent; very impressive.” Of what relevance is this to Post Mortem, the second album from Splendidula? Quite possibly none but having made the splendid-Splendidula link in my head, I got my hopes up. Sadly, a cursory listen to the Belgian metallers’ eponymous 2013 debut brought me back to earth. Sounding curiously flat, and largely lacking in both dynamic range and the claustrophobic weight that I expect from a self-proclaimed sludge-doom band. Its spoken-word passages and intermittent use of electronica at times reminded me more of (the excellent) Manes. But a very middle-of-the-road version.
Whilst I remain unconvinced by some of the musical tags attached to Splendidula, Post Mortem is undoubtedly a stronger album than their previous effort. On first listen, I took an immediate dislike to the ‘spangly’ (a technical term, dear reader) introduction, “Post.” On second spin, however, I forgot to skip it as I had planned and was forced to reconsider. Actually, as it gathers volume and intensity, “Post” provides the ideal lead in to Post Mortem’s strongest (and longest) song, “Nami,” which does, in one track, everything Splendidula failed to do on their debut. It showcases Kristien Cools’ strong and versatile voice, as she mixes powerful, yet fragile singing reminiscent of The Gathering in their mid-90s goth pomp (think, Mandylion), with haunting, wordless chanting. “Nami” blends atmospheric passages with faster riffage, at times bordering on thrash, as well as doom-tinged sections, where Cools’ voice contrasts sharply but effectively with guitarist Pieter Houben’s harsh screams.
“Nami” is in fact a compressed version of Post Mortem as a whole, with the album juddering between goth-tinged stoner, instrumental passages and, sadly, all-too-few droning doom riffs. In a few places, Splendidula strip things back to just a lone acoustic guitar offset with Joachim Taminau’s solid drum work. Despite being based around some fairly simple building blocks, each track on the album offers something a little different too, making for an interesting package in the round. As “Too Close to Me” opens, you could be forgiven for thinking, if only for a few moments, that someone has put on Pixies’ “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” an impression not dispelled when Cools starts counting down from seven later in the song. The curiously hypnotic, chant-driven “Aturienoto” gradually gathers pace and energy, before breaking into mid-paced doom riffage, which seems on the verge of going somewhere great, just as it finishes.
And this, in a nutshell, is the issue that Post Mortem grapples with throughout. At times, or perhaps ‘moments’ would be more accurate, Splendidula show a huge amount of promise, like on “.38” where they finally let loose, allowing a post-metal riff and Houben’s guttural vocals to do battle with a syncopated drum line and dark chanting from Cools. These moments are all too brief, however, and are not given the time or space to deliver on their undeniable promise. Every track on Post Mortem has at least a brief moment where I got excited, thinking we might be heading into YOB-inspired territory but each time Splendidula swerve away, falling back on Cools’ chanting or a chugging mid-paced riff. Throughout Post Mortem, the band seem torn as to the direction they wanted to take, ultimately failing to either deliver the sludgey doom hinted at in places or fully commit to the darker, atmospheric passages that predominate.
Splendid Post Mortem is not but it is nonetheless an interesting listen, with Cools’ versatile voice the undoubted centerpiece as she flits between languages, often sounding possessed. Around Cools are a group of capable musicians—in particular Taminau on drums—who deliver a few nice up-tempo riffs and could, if they were so inclined, also serve up some solid doom. All of which only serves to highlight where they pull their punches. Splendidula have developed hugely since their self-titled debut, with a more refined sound and defter touch on Post Mortem, which has some great, dark moments. If they continue on their current trajectory, their third installment has the potential to be a belter.