Black metal was recently denounced by The Vatican and the Holy See, pointing at the genre as responsible for fuelling an increase in Satanism. No angelic light exists inside this music; the only light is pitch black. Demonisation within music reaches far back. Centuries ago, the playing of the flat 5th interval was strictly forbidden (people were executed for playing it). The flat 5th came to be known as ‘Diabolus in Musica’ – ‘The Devil in Music’, and, thanks to the Church, the interval’s notoriety became well-known and well-established. Feeding the flames, this interval is widely targeted in metal music to astounding effect (as well as being the defining ‘blue note’ in the blues.) It doesn’t have to be frightening, but the way it is used conjures a suitably oppressive, demonic atmosphere. Thankfully, the only worship here is the worship of music.
Steeped in a cavernous black, Rome is also the home of Italian doom metal/sludge band Lento, who unleash a trilogy of flat 5th fears, staring us down with the nightmare states of Anxiety Despair Languish. Lento aren’t afraid to mix it up, and the variety of scorching riffs, time changes and tight rhythms all coalesce to reveal black metal’s true apparition. Never for a second do Lento exchange their highly technical riffs for recycled music, remaining true to their concepts and their flammable style.
Lento’s third full length is a beast; a red-eyed entity, risen up and desperate to desire carnivorous carnage. Their music is a black wedding of slashing, distorted guitars embraced in tight, ceremonial rhythms. Coupled with fiery riffs, it’s an alliance of unholy matrimony. Prehistoric guitars wake after a long slumber, out of the depths, cutting their way through any shields with unsheathed daggers of distortion. In “Death Must Be The Place”, an angelic-clean guitar melody is consumed by a swarm of dirty, distorted chords; Lento switch the dynamics and the loud/quiet ratios perfectly. Picking hands thrash over lacerated strings, and any heavenly trace goes down those chomping jaws without remorse. Cloven-footed riffs tear off the wings of innocence; the kick pedal pounds the air. Down-tuned, the blazing speed conjures up flames of blackened smoke, rising off the fretboard with such a ferocity that holy water alone can’t put out the fire.
“Blackness” may be a poisonous incantation, but it’s a charming chant we wish to continue, and the resolving chord is a holy one. A sinister undercurrent lies just out of sight, like a flickering tail seen out of the corner of our eyes. If there are demons in this track, they’re the personal ones of anxiety and despair. The real blackness comes hot on the heels; “A Necessary Leap” chugs a single string riff, drunk on a diesel load of distortion, creating a flammable, toxic atmosphere. “Underbelly” is another primeval track that activates the fight or flight response in seconds. The instinct may be to run away, but we are trapped in the headlights. Vicious (and awesome), the music wears a white hockey mask, covering the face and slashing at the air in a psychotic frenzy of soul shattering riffage. This is musical brutality at its finest; the kind of music on Jason Voorhees’ old walkman, found in the soil of Crystal Lake.
This savagery continues in “Blind Idiot God”, as an unstoppable rage trails polluted sludge across the ground. The music is violent and raw, and this is the spirit that makes metal such an expressive style. The immediacy screams for your attention, descending deeper and deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole, spilling blood as we skid downwards. This music is bloodthirsty after a long, confined spell; any scent of blood could be fatal. “My Utmost for his Highest” ends on a rising light at the end of the tunnel – strangely uplifting at first – but then the chords crush all in an act of final betrayal; the languish we were promised.
Anxiety Despair Languish has the power to daze, poison and cocoon its victims. We never reach the safety of The Vatican; it’s on the other side of the wide river, out of reach. One belief remains – face your fears, and they will be conquered. Final flames ascend from the burning guitars. Shrouded they may be, but from this angle those fiery tips look strangely like horns. (James Catchpole)