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“The Black Opera” is the final of three Opera IX records with Cadaveria in the vocal slot. Of these three it is the most conventionally symfo with lush gothic overtones. It is by far the most streamlined and concise in writing of the trilogy, on top of being the best produced. What Opera IX lost of its distinct Mediterranean character was complemented by its increased ability to write shorter, punchier songs. Benefitting from the symfo black metal explosion it was Opera IX’ breakthough album, but that success came at a price. As such “The Black Opera” is an eulogy to what could have been had the band not splintered into two factions.

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“The Black Opera” delivers exactly what it promises being structured as an actual opera, consisting of six arias, or acts. The subtitle “Symphoniae Mysteriorum In Laudem Tenebrarum” translates to “Symphony in praise of the mysteries of the shadows”, concisely summarizing the lyrical direction of the record. Of the three it is the most focused on occultism, spirituality and esoterica. It more or less is a loosely conceptual record about spiritual awakening and liberating oneself from dogmas. Each song represents a seal that the listener must pass in order to reach enlightenment and to attain a higher state of consciousness.

The most interesting aspect of “The Black Opera” are its lyrics. Frontwoman Raffaela Rivarolo, who obviously has a personal interest in mythological – and occult subject matter, fuses together multiple religious pantheons through the easily recognizable literary convention of the monomyth, as described by author Joseph Campbell. Drawing mainly from Greek, Israelite and Egyptian belief systems the album’s central narrative is that of a hero’s journey in search of spiritual enlightenment. The artwork and photography by Alberto Maria Gotti puts more of a focus on frontwoman Raffaela Rivarolo than prior efforts. Foreshadowing Rivarolo’s future solo career in the industrial metal subgenre the album includes ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’, a cover of British post-punk and later gothic rock band Bauhaus.

‘Act I: The First Seal’ functions as a general outline of the album’s concept, and ‘Act II: Beyond the Black Diamond Gates’ represents the summoning ritual that sets the listener-character on its spiritual journey. ‘Act III: Carnal Delight in the Vortex Of Evil’ has the protagonist describing the arch-nemesis. ‘Act IV: Congressus Cum Daemone’ invokes the wind gods from Greek mythology. ‘Act V: The Magic Temple’ is sung in the band's native Italian. ‘Act VI: The Sixth Seal’ contains multiple invocations from the Thelemic Bornless Ritual, including the line “Asar Lin-Nefer”, a variation of "Asar-un-Nefer" ("Myself Made Perfect"), an epithet of the Egyptian god Osiris.

“The Black Opera” is more streamlined and concise in its songwriting. As a result its the least adventurous of the Cadaveria trilogy as it has none of the Mediterranean character and ethnic spirit that made the preceding two record so unique. Only a few tracks reach the band’s usually bloated song lengths, and on its face it sounds like a Dimmu Borgir record of the day. Unlike their Norwegian contemporaries Opera IX write incredibly varied songs that are majestic and aggresive in equal measure. In its defense, Rivarolo delivers her most sensual, passionate and serpentine performance on this third album in what would be her swansong with the band she helped popularize.

With the proper support of a mid-level label behind them Opera IX was given the opportunity to record in a facility outside of their native Italy. “The Black Opera” was recorded at Studio Underground in Västerås, Sweden with Pelle Saether producing. In adapting itself to the expectations of the industry Opera IX won in polish and sheen but lost part of what made its prior records so appealing. “The Black Opera”, for the lack of a better description, sounds as a Scandinavian record. It has none of the Mediterreanean warmth that graced this band’s earlier records. “The Black Opera” is as elegant as before but the standard metal production robs it of much of its spirit.

“The Black Opera” was released on AvantGarde Music in 2000, in November of the same year the label would release “Thelema.6”, the album that broke Polish death/black metal unit Behemoth to a wider audience. “The Black Opera” sold approximately 18,000 copies, and Opera IX was poised for stardom. Raffaela Rivarolo (vocals), and Alberto Gaggiotti (drums) acrimoniously split from the band due to creative differences and interpersonal tensions. Both parties carried on in their own respective projects, and Opera IX lost much of its cross-market appeal and scene visibility due to the leaving of its beloved frontwoman. Rivarolo and Gaggiotti would continue working together in different bands but neither of those units experienced the kind of exposure they had at the very heights of Opera IX’ success. Opera IX would continue releasing albums on a variety of labels and with revolving lineups.

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“Sacro Culto” is the second of three Opera IX records with Cadaveria in the vocal slot. Of the three it is the most ethnic, pagan and Mediterreanean sounding. High on atmosphere and ethnic instrumentation it is a refinement of what “The Call Of the Wood” did four years earlier. Much of the death metal stylings have been jettisoned for a fully occult sound that captures the mysticism and sweltering darkness of its home country. “Sacro Culto”, more unified conceptually than its often ignored predecessor, set Opera IX up for an international breakthrough

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On its second album Opera IX made significant strides as a band. “Sacro Culto” is better paced, with more involving writing, and on the whole is more atmospheric than its predecessor. There’s a greater influence of Mediterreanean ethnic music within Opera IX’ pagan metal, and much of the death metal stylings have been jettisoned for a fully occult sound. As such “Sacro Culto” was a major step forward for a band brimming with potential and greatness from the very beginning. “Sacro Culto” is the creative high mark of a band that peaked early, and since has struggled to live up to its own legacy. “Sacro Culto” was the result of Opera IX having to craft a follow-up to its beloved demo work and famous debut offerings.

All the members from “The Call Of the Wood” make their return. Ossian d’Ambrosio (lead guitar) remains the main creative force, along with collaborators Raffaela Rivarolo (vocals), Alberto Gaggiotti (drums), and Vlad (bass guitar) all of whom were allowed more creative input in this album’s creation. Even though keyboardist Triskent helped shape the songs for "Sacro Culto" during pre-production it was ultimately Lunaris who would end up on the recordings. "Sacro Culto" was the band’s only release for Belgian label imprint Shiver Records. The label that had famously contracted Inearthed (the precursor to populist Suomi power metal band Children Of Bodom) the year before. “Sacro Culto” was a priority release for Shiver Records, and accordingly, it was given the required promotional push. On the back of “Sacro Culto” Opera IX would be able to move on to bigger opportunities.

The biggest improvements Opera IX made in terms of compositions. “Sacro Culto”, unlike any record before or since, combines ethnic instrumentation and chants with elaborate vocal lines and highly atmospheric keyboards by new member Lunaris. While retaining the gargantuan song constructions of before, each of them transition from one segment to the other more fluent – and don’t feel as nearly as contrived. ‘Fronds Of the Ancient Walnut’ captures a fitting arboreal atmosphere through sparse wind effects and a raven cawing. ‘The Naked and the Dance’, the only track of the album to stay under the 10 minute mark, is the most folkish and ethnic. It features a greater amount of acoustic guitar playing, male chants, and even handclapping during one section. ‘Cimmeries’ opens with an incantation that would make a return on “The Black Opera” song ‘The Sixth Seal’. The strongest tracks feature in the first half of the record, in particular the trio of ‘The Oak’, ‘Fronds Of the Ancient Walnut’ and ‘Cimmeries’.

‘The Oak’ details an ancient sacrificial ceremony celebrated in a temple of wood and stones. ‘Fronds Of the Ancient Walnut’ is about nature worship and a sabbath. ‘The Naked and the Dance’ concerns itself with enjoyment of the senses, and refers to the Celtic pagan goddess Sheela Na Gog, and belongs to a pre-Christian mother goddess religion. ‘Cimmeries’ chronicles The Cimmerians or Kimmerians, an ancient Indo-European seminomadic tribe that worshipped the power of iron. ‘My Devotion’ is Rivarolo’s (and the band as a whole, for that matter) ideological vessel. It includes an invocation to Ugarit deity Shahar with the line “Helel ben Shahar” (that translates to “O light-bringer, son of dawn”.) ‘Under the Sign of the Red Dragon’ chronicles the historical account of Romanian warlord and folk hero Vlad Tepes, a subject popular among second-wave black metal bands, as Swedish powerhouse Marduk once dedicated half an album to Tepes’ life and work.

On all fronts, from concept to instrumentation and production, “Sacro Culto” was an ambitious undertaking. Where “The Call Of the Wood” was more of a traditional doom/death metal record with the occassional dash of quirkiness, “Sacro Culto” differentiates itself through a greater usage of ethnic acoustic guitars, percussion, chants and folkloristic melodies. Typically categorized as black metal Opera IX in actuality is more of a dark – or pagan metal band using a black metal aesthetic. “Sacro Culto” is the Italian counterpart to “Wolfheart”, the debut record of Lusitian stalwarts Moonspell that was released three years prior, in the sense that both records share a similar objectives and have a few stylistic overlaps. As the album title suggests the lyrics on “Sacro Culto” revolve around the subjects of paganism, the ethereal, the occult, and nature worship.

To properly capture the many nuances and intricacies of the “Sacro Culto” material it was decided to record at Cap Woofer Studio with Stefano Tappari producing. The album was mastered at Elettroformati by Alberto Anadone. The change of studio gives “Sacro Culto” a much warmer, fuller sound with more evenly balanced drums and keyboards. The bass guitar sounds as clear and throbbing as ever. The artwork by Danilo Capua is a representation of the goddess Ishtar. “Sacro Culto” was not only a milestone for the band, but for the entire Italian underground metal scene. Its reputation would allow other Italian bands opportunities that previously remained out of reach. Opera IX was now at the height of its power, but could they consolidate it?