Within three minutes of the start of Hel, the third full length release from Italy’s Melencolia Estatica its pretty clear that the multi-instrumentalist behind it, a lady named Climaxia, isn’t going to make things easy on the listener. Obligatory tolling-bell-followed-by-wall-of-riff aside this six movement piece pitches into a face crushing crescendo of guitar and vocal howl that roars into the space between late period Limbonic Art and Blut Aus Nord. It then fractures into a melodic female vocal and discordant delirium that is creepy as fuck before the violence returns and tosses us out in a weird goth with its skull caved in meets Emperor haze.

The lady can make a hell of an entrance.

Climaxia (sorry, can’t write that name enough!) is the hand on the overall concept here and also handles bass/guitar duties and vocal orchestrations and this single minded vision is the core to the success of this album. Make no mistake; this is black metal down to its soul. Whilst there may be softer, more atmospheric passages here that drip bass notes into a sea of edgy keyboards there is no post rock infection or eyes-on-the-sales-figures easy keyboard hooks. This is the slightly (and only slightly) more conventional side of Blut Aus Nord or the less industrial feel of The Axis Of Perdition crashing up against the pre-death metal direction of Emperor and the esoteric atmospheric hand of bands like Abhor and even the semi-trip hop drumming often employed by Arcturus.

This is apparently inspired by Fritz Lang’s classic dystopian vision Metropolis and whilst I can feel little of the grim, grey industrial feeling of that film here there is that overwhelming oppressive atmosphere, the feeling of the slave state and of hope dashed and manipulation by those above. At times it towers over you, at others it descends to your level only to become a driven torrent taking you places you never asked to go.

There are moments when it relaxes its grip on you just a little too much. Hel V spends a little too much time with a little too genetic a riff with nothing too tug the mind out of the drift, but Hel VI with it’s whispered voices and almost mandolin like guitar plucking and melancholy strings rescues it nicely. If by rescue I mean once more turn to the atmosphere of despair.

I should also highlight the vocal arrangements on this album: From semi choral to outright black metal roar these are exquisitely done. There is huge variation both in style and arrangement and yet it never comes across as being anything other than precisely what the passage of music requires. This willingness to stretch an instrument that, even though it is the most versatile of all those humans can employ is often neglected by extreme metal bands is just one more credit the guiding hand behind everything here.

Climaxia has worked some dark and serious magic here. If you. Have a strong skull and a taste for things just a half step off the beaten path, then Melencolia Estatica should be your next waypoint.

(8/10 Gizmo)