Abhor - Ritualia Stramonium [Moribund Records - 2015]
2015 marks the return of long-running Italian black metal outfit Abhor. Their second album with Moribund Records and fifth overall, Ritualia Stramonium is a fairly logical continuation from the band’s previous offerings. Abhor has being incorporating keyboards into their music since their first album, but it had previously been used as a backing instrument to supplement the guitars and slightly sinister atmosphere. The band’s most recent album, Ab Luna Lucenti, ab Noctua Protecti, saw an increased use of keyboards while still keeping the black metal foundation, and now with Ritualia Stramonium, the band has made them the center of attention.
This was a very poor choice. Hovering over the guitar riffs, the keys are almost playful in nature instead of occult. The stary, bouncy lines try to emulate an organ, but most of the time the atmosphere it evokes is that of a grotesque carnival. Beneath the stifling keys, the guitarists play the same few riffs over and over again, driving the album towards the inevitable corner it is fated to lie in and gather dust.
It’s not so much the lack of variety that irritates me as it is the synths. I can live without standout guitar riffs, but if you’re going to make symphonic black metal, at least aim to cultivate an enveloping atmosphere full of dark mysteries and esoteric secrets through climactic song structures. Ritualia Stramonium has none of the dynamics that make things like In the Nightside Eclipse or The Sad Real of the Stars or Limbonic Art’s output memorable. Instead, there are just cheesy keyboard lines thrown at you without a second thought. As the ultimate sign of tastelessness, the keys are more prominent than any other instrument in the mix, making them impossible to ignore.
An additional strike against Ritualia Stramonium is Ulfhedhnir’s terrible vocals. For the bulk of the album he comes off as the bastard child of Inquisition’s Dagon and Attila, gibbering like a retarded goblin. Like Attila, he attempts a wide range of vocal styles, but lacks the skill to pull it off. Additionally, there is a significant amount of reverb and echo applied to the vocals to disguise their awfulness. Whoever they wrangled in to do guest drums gets a pass for acceptable if unimaginative work.
The real issue with this album is the prominence of the keyboards. Their tasteless application to every part of the album along with the tone and volume are enough to give you a headache. I value it when a band experiments and tries new things as much as the next guy, but this is not a good direction for Abhor. Based on their trajectory of their past couple albums, I would predict that this is the new sound they’ve been aiming for. Hopefully they’ll realize what a mistake this is, because their earlier material isn’t bad at all. This on the other hand, is not worth anyone’s time. Tyler L.