These eclectic Germans came up in a random conversation in a pub a month ago, piquing my interest, so when this album arrived on my desk it felt as if fate were intervening. Porta Nigra are one of those rare beasts indeed, one that genuinely defies convention and as such provides an intriguing listen. The cover would suggest perhaps a gothic doom approach to things, but as that would be exactly what people would expect, it’s not what you get. Porta Nigra’s approach is a very technical and intelligent fusion of doom and black metal, and they do make an impressive noise, especially for a two piece band.

The opening track, ‘Dekadente Nächte’, has a slow but deliberate pace about it, and backed by what sounds like a chorus of monks, it not only carries a sense of gravitas but also a bizarre sense of joy which is hard to ignore. This carries forward into ‘Megalomaniac’, which is a track that I had previously been told about having been released on an EP earlier this year. Here the monks are gone, but the sense of uplifting joy prevails through the chorus, in a similar manner to The Devil’s Blood. When O. comes in with the impressive black metal vocals, it is genuinely unsettling, with the contrast in styles working beautifully. The vocals really are something to behold, favouring anguished screams rather than raw rasping, yet managing to hold it to a tune as so many fail to do, often ranting off into random weeping and screaming. The other impressive thing about O’s vocals is that he is also the drummer, and a very good one at that. Guitarist Gilles De Rais provides some very technical and nuanced riffing, and it’s clear that they more than live up to how they were described to me.

Their versatility comes through further on ‘Der Spiegel’ with its very heavy Atrocity influence, building from a very standard chugfest into a sprawling moody black doom beast, punctuated by a beautiful tremolo riff that cuts through perfectly. Following ‘Absinthfee’ a creepy yet plodding instrumental, we return to business with ‘Aas De Meere’, which probably embraces the black doom concept more readily than any other track on here. The inevitable comparison with Bethlehem is drawn here, especially through the spoken word parts, although whilst I often struggle with Bethlehem’s more anguished sections, here they are far more measured and in keeping with the sound of the music, the screams and howls never reaching pitiful levels. The title track once again manages to find that uplifting sense amid the gloom, a celebration of the darkness and misery. Closing with the epic ‘Tod Meine Lust’, a sprawling epic complete with wailing choral bint, (Ok, they may defy convention a lot of the time, but I think I can forgive them this one obvious tap-in), as the album slowly fades away over the final minute. Once everything comes to a stop, you find yourself taking a moment to let it all sink in.

Porta Nigra not only lived up the high standards that my drunken friend set for them, but clearly surpassed all my expectations. They genuinely do stand apart from the crowd, finding celebration and solace in degeneration. I’m not quite sure I can bring myself to call this one a masterpiece just yet, but it has gotten better with every listen as I find new depths and passages to explore. This really is a spellbinding album, and one which everyone should really try out. One of my albums of the year? Absolutely!

(8.5/10 Lee Kimber)