12 Jacket (Gatefold - One Pocket) [GDOB2-30CH-001]OK, confession time – I listen to most of my music on my Ipod when travelling around. As much as I’d love to spend hours each evening huddled in front of my vinyl player with the lights dimmed, absorbing every fine sonic nuance and being transported away into another world, the harsh practicalities and hectic time constraints of city life torpedo that. Nope, its inner-ear headphones jammed in and MP3s abound on the relentless grind of the underground/overground/concrete trudge commute for this hapless scribe.

This has made reviewing ‘De Mysteris Dom Christi’ something of a considerable challenge – quite apart from the ‘are they taking the piss?’ notions regarding the faintly absurd backstory of the band (a duo of ex-black metal fanatics – one of whom used to play in the ‘non more Satanic’ Swedish outfit Ofermod – who converted to Roman Catholicism in 2009, hence the album title translating as something like ‘Christ’s Secret Rites’), this is sonically a very difficult album to absorb indeed. The relentless pummel of the drums aside, the whole record is very, very faint, murky and distant, ghostly wisps of barely audible sound and ‘did I hear that?’ sound effects simmering within the mix.

I’ll be honest – at first, I dismissed this record as something of a parody. The whole Roman Catholic angle, the pretentiousness of Ajna releasing three version of this album, each allegedly containing different songs (?), the quasi-inaudible nature of the majority of the music, the Mayhem-parodying album title. Nevertheless, instinct and intrigue made me stay my hand from swift dismissal. Underneath the sonic fog, there was something there, a sinister, wafting hint of ambience and affecting melody that slowly began to unfurl.

With every increase of the volume notch, more secrets were unveiled – the meandering bass lines underpinning ‘IV’, the Negura Bunget-tinged dramatic synths that coruscate across ‘IIX’, the searing melody that slithers beneath the cavernous blastbeats on ‘X’ – and gradually, ‘De Mysteis Dom Christi’ begins to make a lot more sense. Far from the work of studio ineptitude, the misty and faint nature of the production is clearly a very definite artistic choice, the sonic equivalent of sunlight diffusing through the stained glass window of a long-forgotten church, dimly illuminating the dust and decrepitude within.

Elsewhere, there are smatterings of Abruptum-styled soundscapes – the slow-paced percussion and demented, gurgling vocals in ‘VI’ being a particular case in point. The final track ‘XI’ meanwhile showcases a real sense of subtle escalation in the cold melodies lurking beneath the surface. Throughout the whole album, it’s hard to tell whether its synth, guitars or both that are generating the subtle billows of sound.

‘De Mysteris Dom Christi’ is not an easy album – and it’s still debatable as to exactly how serious these two are being – but in this age of readily-digestible trends, triggered blastbeat plastic black metal and pseudo-occult rockstars, it’s highly refreshing to encounter something at once this idiosyncratic and intriguing. It isn’t for everyone but there’s a real sense of atmosphere if you’ve the patience and willpower to dig beneath the surface of this undeniably unusual release.

(8/10 Frank Allain)