Vertebra Atlantis – Lustral Purge in Cerulean Bliss

Dissonance, for as alienating and bleak as it is, is actually incredibly difficult to do well. It’s one of the styles whose adherents ride a fine line between atmospheric and sloppy, constantly warring over how accessible is too accessible. I find myself falling into the same trap, praising Replicant for professionally fusing dissonance with groove, while trashing Noctambulist for being too accessible. I then praise Sunless for being maddeningly dissonant while slamming Altarage for being too inaccessible. It’s a difficult sound to actualize, as pinpoint songwriting is absolutely crucial for success, while average to subpar songwriting can be masked by a solo or a nice riff, a song built entirely on dissonance has a potential to fall flat.

Mastermind behind such acts like Summit, The Clearing Path, Cosmic Putrefaction, and Turris Eburnea, G.G. or Gabriele Gramaglia’s resume is vast and varied, and sets a pretense for new project Vertebra Atlantis. Working with drummer/vocalist R.R. from Homselvareg and Vrangr from Spells of Misery, debut Lustral Purge in Cerulean Bliss offers a fusion of dissonant death metal and atmospheric black metal, not unlike labelmates Prometheus’ debut. Offering scorching tremolo alongside crushing riffs and multifaceted drumming and an intense vocal attack, Vertebra Atlantis is by no means reinventing the wheel, but gets it rolling with scary efficiency on its debut of many faces.

A common complaint about acts like Feral Lord or Sinmara is their uncommitted attitude towards an aesthetic in the name of dissonance and unpredictability, but Vertebra Atlantis offers a masterclass of layers, textures, and atmosphere, reflecting the obscurity of its album art. Recalling Icelandic blackened experiments, the environ that Vertebra Atlantis offers is a charred and desolate expanse, thick riffs like monoliths crowning the horizon and tremolo the creeping fog. Frantic and contemplative in equal measure, tracks like “Carnal Denouement,” “Spiritual Onset,” and closer “The Hermit Strums a Mournful Dirge” exchange dense riffs, scathing tremolo, and dissonant melodic lines in accordance with its spastic rhythms and enhanced by tasteful choral synth passages. Instrumental “Altopiano Celeste” is of special mention, as it maintains a beauty, a ray of light, amid the igneous sheets and thundering clouds of darkness. Featuring a melodic minor riff woven throughout, it warps and shudders its way through over seven minutes with grace, thanks to Vertebra Atlantis’ complete control over its assets and rock-solid songwriting. Like Prometheus of yesteryear, Lustral Purge offers a stunning balance of black and death metal influences, but transcends them for a bleak trek through scorched wilderness, while never forsaking its highlights.

A common frustration with black/death balances is that it inevitably leans too passionately one way or the other. With a few exceptions in composition hiccups, such as the over-repetition of passages in opener “Agoraphobic Solipsist” and the title track or the abrupt ending of “The Hermit Strums a Mournful Dirge,” Vertebra Atlantis has concocted one hell of a solid debut that never compromises its obscure aesthetic. That being said, penultimate track “Saw Thee Quietly Inurned,” while its production and mixing fits, is very much straight-up death metal, belonging to a Cruciamentum or Chthe’ilist cavernous styling, complete with a rip-roaring guitar solo – a sound that does not appear anywhere else. It’s a bit jarring that the dissonant apathy seems to be randomly compromised for a straightforward and kickass OSDM affair, when scathing obscurity is the aim of the album. Also, although solidly written and executed, Vertebra Atlantis plays this style close to the vest for the majority of its forty-three-minute runtime, only extending its reach in “Altopiano Celeste” (which ends up being a clear highlight). Even compared to Gramaglia’s other project Turris Eburnea, Vertebra Atlantis falls somewhat short in its safeness.

Lustral Purge in Cerulean Bliss is a stunning debut from a veteran whose resume is as formidable as they come. Vertebra Atlantis’ debut balances atmospheric black metal with dissonant and cavernous death metal for a consistently evocative sound that offers memorable riffs and sickly dissonance alongside moments of epic beauty. It’s another notch in the bedpost for Gramaglia and company, and it’s refreshing to say that this debut’s only flaw is its undying safeness. This trio is in complete control of its formidable sound, furthermore mixed and engineered to enhance all facets – including its tantalizingly apathetic breed of dissonance. While Lustral Purge perhaps offers more promise than it capitalizes upon, I eagerly await what madness greets my ears in our next encounter.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: I, Voidhanger Records
Releases Worldwide: November 12th, 2021

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