Charnel House - The Leprosy Of Unreality [SYGIL Records - 2010]
Little known outfit Charnel House have recorded "The Leprosy of Unreality", a powerful example of minimal black metal which functions as a portal to a nightmarish and foreign spirit realm. Technique and complexity are abandoned for an extra-dimensional delirium which deepens upon each repetition of the short, simple riffs, which are 3 chord mantras.
A grimey groan of plodding bass begins the album, circled closely by vaporous chants and an anxious rolling snare. A sort of primal proto-doom not unlike Christopher Walton's music as TenHornedBeast, this track hangs motionless for 5 minutes as the band sustains a space with intense determination. At the end of the song, the instruments fall away, and the chanting continues for a few seconds, then dissolves into a vast misty ether.
"Orison" is the first black metal song, a howling sketch of ghostly, melancholic chord progressions, driven by a blast beat. The sound batters coldly and relentlessly as blizzard winds. The dense, repetitious harmonizations found here are similar to Wolves In the Throne Room, a band who similarly pushes percussion and rhythm to the back of the mix, letting the carefully crafted, forlorn dissonance of the chord work speak for itself.
The production is very low budget, but pleasing to the ear and perfect for the music. The washed out guitar is placed prominently in the mix, the other instruments wreathing it subtely. The manic, furious drumming, which seems to continue at full speed even when the rest of the band drops into sparseness, is hardly audible throughout the album, but even through its hinted presence contributes freakish urgency to the sound.
"Paroxysm" returns to some sludgy doom riffage in a more rhythmic context, providing the 'heaviest' moment on the record with its opening downtuned power chords, possibly the only part of the album that one could headbang to. The hypnotized moans of the vocalist morph demonically with the addition of ghoulish electronic harmonization, set to an incandescent, hallucinatory dissonant interval.
The album unfolds like a slow, inevitable descent into unreasoning terror. It is as if reality is increasingly obscured, and time begins to distort. "Immolation", the feverish climax of the album, achieves a bizarre and deathly effect through endlessly spiralling guitar progressions combined with a vocal performance that never wavers from a single, wailing pitch. It's a complex and threatening despair that has more than once driven me to turn the record off.
"Passage (Out From Illusion)" is a dirty, opaque pool of soupy distorted feedback, the most unmoving, unthinking piece on the album, and also the longest. Essentially a dark ambient track, it brings to mind subterranean volcanic activity. Viewing this album as a sort of journey, this is the 'lowest' point we have reached yet, though not as urgent or unsettling as the two tracks previous.
The final track, "Grave Digging", is more black metal along the lines of "Orison". While not as stylistically distinct as some of the others, it communicates an intense, painful dread as well as any song here. The most unique thing about it is the ritualistic percussive intro, which features an eerie compliment from a fluttering, delayed sound like the flapping of wings.
In conclusion, Charnel House's "The Leprosy of Unreality" is a great piece of work, drastically more diverse and listenable than most atmospheric black metal and ritual ambient releases, as well as deeply unsettling and perfectly suited to its title and the name of the band. If you've any interest in this depressive, ghastly genre, I highly recommend this album, though with the disclaimer that it is not for the faint of heart