Back in the olden days of… er, 2012, Hour of 13 mainman Chad Davis teamed up with former Nàttsòl vocalist Anette Uvaas Gulbrandsen to form The Sabbathian, dropping a convincing three-song EP in 2014’s Ritual Rites. While musically it was a logical continuation of the Hour of 13 sound but with the angelic vocals of Gulbrandsen, Ritual Rites turned enough heads to leave those salivating for their unique brand of occult doom metal wanting more. But in those five years, so much Scoobie Doobie Doom occult metal has saturated the market to the point that all that’s missing from the albums are hoods, masks, and drawn-out lawsuits. Davis and Gulbrandsen know this, and on the long-awaited follow-up, Latum Alterum, an about-face was performed to steer clear of their contemporaries.
That odd left-hand turn may have hindered their value, though. After an intro consisting of Gulbrandsen singing beautifully over an elongated keyboard chord, the album begins in earnest with “The Brightest Light,” and the change is already apparent. Gone are the sounds akin to The Devil’s Blood and Coven, to be replaced with what can be best described as a mid-paced, mid-90s Ulver in both sound and production. To say that the effect is jarring is applying the mildest of understatements, as instead of feeling like Gulbrandsen is blending harmoniously with the music, it’s like her voice is sitting on top. In the one-sheet supplied by Svart, Gulbrandsen said that it felt like it was a challenge to write lyrics and sing over such a change, and it shows in her performance, as while she still sounds incredible, with her siren-like wails adding light when needed, it feels less than a collaborative effort this time, and more like two people making two disparate songs forcibly congeal into one coherent idea, with little success.
It doesn’t help that the music that Davis brought to the table isn’t engaging, or even all that interesting. “Liti Kjersti” keeps to a mid-tempo, 6/8 rhythm with no solos and excruciatingly little else in terms of variance. Immediately following that, “Head of a Traitor,” featuring Liv Kristine of Midnattsol on guest vocals, retains that very same tempo and time signature, effectively feeling like one 15-minute song instead of two separate entities, with only a keyboard intro and a language change disrupting the flow temporarily. It’s only on standout “Embrace the Dark” where things return to prosperity, and it’s because it retains the charm, heft, and memorability of Ritual Rites, where Davis riffs and solos like a child freshly plucked out of the 70s, and actually plays to his (and The Sabbathian‘s) strengths.
It’s also on “Embrace the Dark” that the production stands out positively, featuring warm, fuzzed-out guitars, booming drums, and a nice, thumping bass that’s not pancake-flat. Otherwise, as stated before, the music takes a back seat to the vocals, though truth be told, musically it’s not much this time around. That said, I can’t place the entire blame on Davis, as Gulbrandsen delivers some truly laugh and cringe-inducing moments as well, such as her breathy pushing of one-word syllables on “One Night of Cruelty” (“Let me introduce you to yourself/Here at the gates of Hell, enjoy the sme-heeeeell/The smell of rotten flesh, the smell of the deeee-heaaaaad…”). The biggest problem lies in the fact that, like many bands whose membership spans entire continents, it sounds like two people writing an album without communicating thoughts and ideas to each other, or fleshing out details, or even agreeing with a uniform overlying style, first.
It’s that lack of flow and communication that does Latum Alterum in as an album, and also the stumbling block that’s tripping up The Sabbathian‘s climb. Upon listening to Ritual Rites, while it might have blended a little too well with the overflowing occult doom genre, there was nothing inherently wrong with it, and deviating from that sound too much may have cost The Sabbathian some ground. I sincerely hope not, as both “Embrace the Dark” and their EP have proven that they have a lot to offer. It’s just not showcased well here.