Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Black - Refugium Peccatorum (1995) / 75%

Cannelloni & Manicotti Doom part III: Refuge of Sinners

The Black is one of the oldest traditional doom bands in the Italian scene, not quite well known outside of its mysterious realm. They've been releasing albums for ages and are pretty consistent. Refugium Peccatorum, their third one released when I was a wee child of five years is perhaps one of my favourites of theirs. Formed in 1988 by Mario Di Donato after the demise of the excellent Requiem (check out their great compilation The Story 1985-'92), the band is truly the project of this guitarist and vocalist who's been the only constant member of the trio.

The band has been known to release both short and longer releases, such as their latest kind of interminable album Gorgoni. This one on the other hand is only thirty three minutes if we exclude the three bonus tracks (including a cover of Saint Vitus' “Hallows Victim”.) I think their formula works better when it's out not freaking seventy seven minutes, this works for most things too!

The Black's sound has a huge liking for the instrumental side of doom metal, there's indeed five instrumental to be found here ranging from one minute to almost four. They're all good songs with a catholic influenced darkness in them. They feature lo-fi keys and they give a nice, albeit a bit cheesy atmosphere. Maybe that's the focus due to Di Donato's inability to sing properly? He's a good guitarist for sure but I never was a fan of his vocals and I don't think it's due to the use of the dead but fascinating Latin language (another constant characteristic of the band's identity). I guess it works considering the style they play and most doom metal doesn't have pretty good vocals. He's still kind of powerful, I just don't really like the tone he's using, it's a bit unnerving.

The use of Latin coincides with the religious lyrical themes, I'm not quite fond of these but it truly fits the band's vision and I can't quite understand them anyway. Mario seems to like the darker side of catholicism such as sins, he made a full concept album based around the seven sins in 2004 called Peccatis Nostris so you know he's serious about that.

Even though they're one of the ancient players in the Italian doom scene, they never were the leaders simply because their material is not strong enough to compete against early Paul Chain or Black Hole. The band needed (and still do) a good vocalist to really make it. They don't do anything wrong musically, it's just not quite good f you quickly disregard the quirkiness. Their leads are cool such as in “Mortalis Silentium” but it's nothing to call your grand mother about. They explore traditional doom but with a peculiar twit, the use of these synthy, medieval or Renaissance-like  interludes sets them apart.

Their songs are mostly short, riffy and the album is well constructed even if there's many instrumental breaks. The songs are not quite memorable, there's no big catchy numbers or awesome vocal lines, it's trying to be special but both the sub-par production and the casual songwriting (when it's actually metal) doesn't help.

The best thing about The Black is their artwork, always done by their leader, it has a weird religious style akin to their sound. It's full detailed with many bright colours. I don't really know what's happening on the cover art but there's a loaf of bread, some weird hooded people watching in the fog and a guy dressed as a hobbit trying to be seduced by a yellow bearded demon with birds as wings.

Their discography is huge and I'm not recommending everything they did, this album is a good entry point to it if you're interested. It's still quality stuff but perhaps for the doom purists and collectors.

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