Black metal bands love to talk about how their take on the genre is the coldest, the harshest, the scariest, the blackest black metal that ever blacked. More often than not, all that talk of evil scariness is just braggadocio. Little variation separates one icy tremolo from another, and if you’ve seen one skinny corpse painted croaker, you’ve pretty much seen them all. That guy contorting his body into tortured positions, pulling at his face and rolling his eyes back while rasping about the annihilation of the psyche probably winds down backstage with a cucumber water and Candy Crush. Italian band Tenebrae In Perpetuum on the other hand might just be on to something sinister. When I try to picture primary member Atratus going about his daily business, he’s mostly eating handfuls of spiders like popcorn and reading 19th century medical examiner reports on the Elephant Man Joseph Merrick. After some notoriety in the Aughts followed by ten years of silence, Atratus returns to his Tenebrae In Perpetuum moniker with one of the most truly stark and frightening black metal albums of 2019 in Anorexia Obscura.
Conceptually, Anorexia Obscura is about the connection between “mental and nervous diseases and its consequences on the body.” These themes are formally packaged in gaunt compositions of antiseptic guitars, stark electronics and vocals that rarely deviate from shrieking rants. From the jump, first song “Disonanze mentali” follows a blast of squalling feedback with a repetitive electric buzzing that sounds a bit like the Emergency Broadcast System tests that aired on television and radio during my Cold War childhood. Late in its five and a half minute runtime, a half melodic, half dissonant riff jumps out of nowhere to let the listener know that even in the midst of minimalist experimentation, this is still a black metal record grounded in what many of us love about the genre, namely deceptively catchy tremolos and blast beats.
The greatest difference between Anorexia Obscura and the Tenebrae In Perpetuum albums that came out in the late 2000s is the addition of electronics, and this element is what most distinguishes this album from also-rans in the arena of experimental black metal. There is something unmistakably Lynchian about how electronics are integrated into the natural flow of Anorexia Obscura. In the same way that programmed soundscapes take on background menace in Eraserhead or Twin Peaks the Return, Atratus embraces the ability of these sounds to be both subdued and tense. This is especially evident at the end of “Anorexia obscura” and in the mid-section of “Nero, oscuro concetto di assoluto.” He also knows not to overuse them, allowing songs like “L’epoca oscura del caos” to not only forgo electronics, but to shine as album highlights, quasi-guitar solos and all.
It may come as no surprise that the main limiting factor of Anorexia Obscura is the main thing it does well, which is create an atmosphere of stark anxiety. Between the cold, almost minimal use of instrumentation and the harshness of Atratus’ vocals, this is music that is easy to respect but somewhat less easy to enjoy. It’s telling that on my morning commute, one of the main times I intently listen to albums I’m reviewing, I would sometimes press play only to think “Oh, no no no, too early for this.” The unhinged vocal delivery especially will likely be divisive to even staunch black metal fans, even if it is clearly successful in what it sets out to accomplish.
With Anorexia Obscura, Tenebrae In Perpetuum have crafted an album that I find hard to score definitively. After 10 years out of the game, they return with a singular artistic statement that is the ultimate “have to be in the mood” listen. I personally oscillate between enthusiastic respect and noping out altogether depending on how my day is going. But when the mood is right, you, like me, may find this just the sort of minimalistic anxiety attack to reach for, however rare that occasion might be.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Debumur Morti Productions
Websites: tenebraeinperpetuum.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/tenebraeinperpetuum
Releases Worldwide: August 30th, 2019