This is where dark and gloomy meets harsh and gritty. The Funeral Orchestra from Sweden have not been the most prolific band in their 18-year career, this being only their third full length. In fact the band, recognisable by their cloaks and gold masks (which remind me of a Dr Who monster I used to have nightmares about as a kid), took a 17 year hiatus from playing live until January of this year. Of course, shortly after that, and with the band having a load of gigs lined up for the summer the world promptly broke and pestilence and decay took over. Well, could there be a more fitting soundtrack to 2020 than Negative Evocation Rites?
This bands take on Funeral Doom takes in lashings of depressive Black metal and a rawness that at times evokes a sense of war metal on Mogadon. Simply put, the four tracks on offer here are delightfully disturbing dark nuggets that shine a black light on the dark corners of underground caves. It’s like the movie Descent in slow motion.
The percussion throughout is exemplary. Priest III utilises whatever drums or timpani that are needed to permeate the sonic filth created by his equally anonymous brethren. Whether he is crushing bass drum pedals at the rate that other bands could fit an E.P inbetween beats or riding a high hat and splash with jaunty flair the control appears to be his. With that back beat the guitarist and bassist are able to slink around in the grime offering up giant riffs, spacey chords and thunderous rhythms. It is marvellously bleak, as you would expect from a funeral doom band, but there is a real earthiness to the sound that gives it a strange positivity. The use of multiple voices here and there as if in Gregorian chant adds to the eeriness and occult themes. The opening track, the near 13 minute “Negative Evocations” is the kind of disturbing piece that folks in an Edgar Allen Poe novella would find themselves hearing upon waking up strapped to an altar with surrounded by cloaked figures. The guitars tremolo like half speed Norwegian Black metal whilst the drums represent impending doom. Truly terrifying yet wonderfully rock and roll. A lot of funeral doom relies on the size of the riffs and crushing heaviness to build the atmosphere, which his fantastic. The Funeral Orchestra take a leaf out of bands like Portal’s cave map and let the sound reverb off the back of each other and envelop each sound with a sense of evil and dread. There are no wholesome rounded edges here. Each bludgeoning stoner riff is sharpened and will slice flesh before it crushes bone.
“Flesh Infiltrations” is even more Black metal. The vocals struggling up from the depths of the cave like Abbath at the end of a wind tunnel. The percussion becomes even more oppressive with chimes and timpani crashing over a drone riff that just won’t quit. Utterly relentless and utterly compelling. With each note the track drags the listener in further. The doom drop towards the end is like a trip on Terror Tower through treacle.
I have had this album on repeat for the last two days and every time I notice something new and interesting.
The second half of the album is the two-parter “Negations” and it appears light in comparison – at first. Melancholic and mournful guitars play out over the fuzziest guitars this side of Mudhoney before a giant town crushing riff cascades over everything. I don’t know if what is happening in the background is created by synths or the human voice but there appears to be some low throat-singing happening, perfectly pitched and creating a great feeling of threat and dread. Once the vocal line proper begins it feels like a Titan has risen from beneath the waves to assess the destruction it has wrought. So much DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM ! Strange oscillating synths join in or is it a Theramin? I am not sure, as I am distracted by the oncoming chanting hordes. This is the end, beautiful friends. There are screams that rise like a boiling kettle meanwhile the beat continues unrelenting. I must admit that this track mesmerises me and each time the album ends I look up at the player groggy and bewildered. Surely that has got to be a great way to be affected by an album? I wouldn’t suggest operating heavy (or even light machinery whilst listening – I have struggled with a laptop!).
If their releases are of this quality then The Funeral Orchestra can take as long as they like working on the next one. There is plenty within the quartet of compositions to keep me going for the next decade.
(9/10 Matt Mason)