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Opera IX – Sacro Culto

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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?

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