...

One of the most fascinating -- and to the more regressively minded connoisseurs out there, frustrating -- aspects of black metal’s development in recent years has been the astonishing degree to which it has been reinterpreted and repurposed by so many talented songwriters and performers. It’s no longer accurate to pigeonhole the genre as the sole property of its corpse-painted, bullet-belted and spiky-wristed progenitors.

An inspired take comes from Virginia-based quartet Grethor on their debut full-length Damnatio Memoriae, a conceptual work centered on what the band describe as an ancient form of punishment practiced in the Roman Empire. Traitors and criminals whose actions brought shame upon the Empire would be given a sentence worse than death -- through damnatio memoriae, or “condemnation of memory,” the state would wipe all traces of the person’s life and legacy from the collective existence of all Romans.

Grethor employ this theme as a launchpad from which to rail, here in classical black metal fashion, against the role of religion in society. This “tool of oligarchy,” says vocalist Marcus Lawrence, has long been used to placate the masses, as “the shamanistic class would always be amplified by the oligarchs who needed a compliant labor force."

...

...

“Tongue of Argent” showcases Grethor’s aptitude at blending black metal with death and doom influences to create the signature of their musical identity. This song is a slower and much stompier affair than many of its album-mates, certainly an outlier in terms of feel. However, as a standard-bearer of their maniacal atmosphere and mood, it’s pitch-perfect Grethor.

Grethor employ a two-pronged vocal assault, which contributes much to their unsettling sound. The primary vocal style is a high rasp, trapped in the back of the throat, delivered by a tortured figure seemingly on the constant verge of choking on his own mucous. Underpinning this twisted voice is an ominous rumbling from the deep, the two entities engaged in a ceaseless, intermingling dance. This vocal layering adds a striking textural element not often found in other single-vocalist black metal bands.

Most of the riffs in “Tongue of Argent” bear a discernible air of hope and buoyancy, which despite their warmth only end up creating more unease thanks to the merciless drumming and aforementioned eerie vocal presence. The song’s final movement demonstrates effective use of negative space, exemplary of the “three-dimensional songwriting” mentioned in the band’s album description.

-- Ivan Belcic

...

Damnatio Memoriae drops on January 26th via Edgewood Arsenal. Digital and CD pre-orders are available now on Bandcamp.

...