cover-operaIX02

“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

190740

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?

cover-inquisitor.jpg

 

Before drummer Wim Van der Valk formulated Centurian, he was part of the transitional outfit Inquisitor. Not only was the band famous for its condemnation of organized religion, Catholicism in particular - but also for featuring guitarist Erik Sprooten who would make a name for himself with Ancient Rites a few years down the line. Inquisitor existed from 1992 to 1996, and in that short time they released two studio demos, a live demo – and its sole cult album “Walpurgis – Sabbath Of Lust” through Belgian label imprint Shiver Records in 1996. The devilish, nearly hysterical falsetto vocals of Alex Wesdijk, and boycotting of shows helped in establishing the band’s reputation.

1545795_143139552523389_429390673075033842_nPrior to cutting its debut album Inquisitor released two studio demos “Blasphemous Accusations” (1992) and “Your Pain Will Be Exquisite” (1993). A live demo tape “Crush the Holy Church” was released in 1993 to stir further industry interest. Like many a debut “Walpurgis – Sabbath Of Lust” consists mostly of songs from the previous demo tapes, except ‘Deluge (The First Final Judgment)’ and ‘A Lifetime’s Lie’ that were omitted for a hitherto undisclosed reason. In many respects “Walpurgis” functions as a best-of anthology including three new songs. Even though Alex Wesdijk is a clear-cut speed metal singer Inquisitor is on many fronts of a more death metal persuasion.

A number of songs sound like Centurian songs in waiting, primarily cuts as ‘Consuming Christ’, ‘Jehova’s Downfall’, ‘Crypt Of Confession’ and ‘Fallen Missionary’ but they are thrashier than the latter. ‘Trial Of Denial’ has a more pronounced Iron Maiden influence in terms of riffing and bass guitar licks in its slower parts. The solo sounds as something you’d hear on Metallica’s “Kill ‘Em All”. ‘Consuming Christ’ and ‘Cry Of the Christians’ are the shortest tracks of the record. ‘Chaos In Eden’, ‘Unholy Seeds’ and ‘Inquisitor’ are far more compositionally dense in comparison to the rest of the album, the second of these is custodian to one of the album’s best solo moments.  Inquisitor plays much faster and heavier than the average thrash/speed metal band. For all intents and purposes they were a contemporary equivalent of Dead Head’s “The Feast Begins At Dawn”.

One of the record’s biggest strengths is just how unhinged and uncontrollably chaotic it sounds. Each of the songs is more decimating than the next, and the nearly hysterical falsetto vocals contrast heavily with the almost death metal that the band plays. Wesdijk and Van der Valk are the band’s calling cards, whereas Erik Sprooten plays far more evil sounding riffs at a truly relentless pace than his later work with Belgian death/black metal icons Ancient Rites would ever allow. Recurring in the post-Inquisitor band Centurian is the strong anti-religious sentiment but the latter outfit would draw inspiration from newer bands in the genre. Even though Inquisitor released a sole album in its original run said album was enough to establish its cult metal band reputation.

10496107_143110855859592_2102872788656278206_oThe album was recorded and mixed over a two-month period at R.S. 29 with Oscar Holleman and the band co-producing in 1995. Much like the Acrostichon album “Engraved in Black” it has a functional production that nevertheless is rough around the edges and not very tonally defined. Holleman’s production is adequate from a technical standpoint as all the instruments are distributed evenly in the mix - but in reality is nothing more than a slightly superior demo production. While the drum tone is far from the most optimal the crunchy guitar sound, and thick sounding bass guitar tone are what truly sells the record. Misja Baas was responsible for the amazing artwork. He had made a name for himself by providing visuals for the Marduk album “Those Of the Unlight”.

That Inquisitor only released a solitary album before its membership moved on to a full-blown death metal unit has only strengthened its cult status. The band’s entire recorded history: “Walpurgis – Sabbath Of Lust”, and its three preceding demos, were recently re-released by Dutch extreme metal label imprint Hammerheart Records. Even though its key members made a name for themselves with lauded bands as Ancient Rites and Centurian, Inquisitor reunited in 2014, with original bass guitarist Alex Bakker, and over a decade of inactivity seems to have only made them more dedicated and hungry.  With the renewed interest in traditional metal and the 20th anniversary of Inquisitor’s lone album coming up in 2016, it seems we haven’t heard the last of these Dutchmen.