Tortorum-Katabasis-coverConsisting of members with three different nationalities, Tortorum proves one thing: that for all its negativity and anti-humanism, the sound of True Norwegian Black Metal can be a unifying force. Barghest (England) and Skyggen (Poland) – creators of this Bergen-based band’s 2012 debut ‘Exctinctionist’ – now find themselves joined by local guitarist Specter for their second effort, ‘Katabasis’. Boasting many years experience in bands ranging from Aeternus, Gorgoroth and Spearhead, the members’ collective quest for darkness and black metal orthodoxy would appear successful before you’ve even inserted the disc and pressed play…

‘Descensus’ draws us in with imposing piano and heavy echoes from the abyss which punctuate the instrumentation. Following the obscure introduction comes some morbid, serpentine black metal. From the off, it’s all very controlled as mid-pace rhythms pulsate beneath cutting, progressive guitar lines and ravaged vocals. As contradictory as it sounds given this musical description, the production is actually quite rich and even exudes warmth. More driving towards its end, the opener makes a favourable impression. Next track, ‘In Nameless Nonbeing’, adds blast-beats to reveal a cool, icy cymbal sound which contrasts with the guitarists’ eery embellishments. Aside from such details, the early evidence certainly suggests Tortorum’s preference for consuming rhythms in the Scandinavian style rather than anything overly intense. Even when ‘Severance and Perseverance’ hints at a possible foray into grotesque Marduk/Funeral Mist territory with its opening vocal gambit, the main of the track proves fairly restrained.

As the second half of the album unfurls, the extremity does seem to go up a notch. First arrives ‘As the Light Falls to Slaughter’ with more blasting, malevolent riffing and vocal contortions. It is really the tempo change around the 3:20 mark however which is of most significance, as it provides the first truly surprising shift in pace so far. Diverting yet further from the band’s haunting manoeuvres is ‘Into the Sixth Coil’, incorporating as it does more of those frosty, clattering blasts. A sense of the spectral still pervades though, this time with some particularly surreal female(?) operatics swirling around (an effect which initially reared its head on the first track). Of even greater note is ‘Open Wide the Gates of Chaos’, which contains the most crushing aspect of the entire record in the form of a genuinely brilliant thrashy riff. Hats off for that one! But the greatest track of the bunch is left for last. Emerging from deepest space, the closing number incorporates unexpected majesty and obscurity with near perfection.

Overall, it’s hard to say that Tortorum’s formula contains any real surprises. Admittedly there are flashes of spontaneity and brilliance throughout but the greatest revelation is that of epic closer ‘Beyond the Earth and Air and Sun’. Where the majority of the material seems content to methodically rub salt in your hell inflicted wounds (with the odd bit of insanity thrown in), this composition demonstrates Tortorum at their best and most creative.

(7/10 Jamie)