Twenty years. That's how long we've waited for Sinistrous Diabolus's debut full-length, Total Doom//Desecration. Back in 1993 the Christchurch, New Zealand-based band released Opus One, a three-song cassette that has long been recognized as one of Australasia's most influential extreme metal demos. Opus One was reissued recently by Dark Descent and Goat Gear (selling out immediately), and its importance for NZ's underground metal scene--or for anyone who has drawn inspiration from its chasms of putrescent death and even more festering doom--can't be understated.
In the world of lugubrious Antipodean death and doom you can certainly hear Opus One's echo to this day. Much like similarly revered NZ metal veterans Vassafor, who recently released their throttling full-length debut, Obsidian Codex, Sinistrous Diabolus played a crucial role in constructing the aesthetic framework of the gloomiest, dankest, and staunchest end of the NZ metal scene. Things have come full circle in recent years for the band’s frontman, N.K.S., as his role in providing eerie noise-scapes on Stone Angels' magnificently shadowy sludge debut, 2011's Within the Witch, has seen members of that band join Sinistrous Diabolus’s current line-up. However, the darkest gods have truly aligned with N.K.S having also featured in the line-up of NZ's most (in)famous doom cult acts Witchrist and Diocletian--and both bands continue to honor the artistic vision Sinistrous Diabolus first evoked back in 1993.
Given Sinistrous Diabolus's history, legacy, and influence, and of course the unabashed title of Total Doom//Desecration, it'll come as no surprise to hear that the album’s contents are supremely dark and iniquitous. If references are required, think of it as a blend of the old-guard of death and doom (Incantation, Asphyx, Thergothon, and disEmbowelment) meeting newer purveyors of morbid and malicious eccentricity (Abyssal, Mitochondrion, or Portal). However, keep in mind, N.K.S has been honing the blade for 20 or so years now, and Sinistrous Diabolus do have a sound very much of their own. They call to mind the classics, of course, how could they not? But somewhere in that mix of old and new is Sinistrous Diabolus, crouching in a cave, roasting the bones of sacrificed Christians over a roaring fire.
Total Doom//Desecration is 40-plus minutes of Stygian atmospherics and soul-crushing, grinding doom. Within, Sinistrous Diabolus revisit older tracks, reconstructing them into more intimidating form, with monolithically heavy and murky passages of faster death-metal riffing, and grim soundscapes burying melodies under churning, frequently harrowing, requiems.
"Wipe out Christianity (Exordium)", and the 12 minutes of ritualized misery on "Wipe out Christianity (Pestis)" seethe with an (obvious) abhorrence of doctrine and divinity. The hawkish chimes and drones--flecked with Orthodox timbres and battering percussion--on "Gate of Hell" plummet into the uber-downtuned roil of "Sleep of the Damned Pt. I". And the album's highlight, "The Essence of Divinity Given to Abstractions of the Human Mind", is a colossally menacing composition--inexorably building layer upon layer of apprehension and tension towards its maelstrom-like zenith.
What defines Total Doom//Desecration is Sinistrous Diabolus's ability to maintain a sense of trepidation and corruption, underscored by intense despair. Alternating between old-school mid-tempo lurches, pitch-black feedbacking noise, and surges of dissonance and technicality intensifies the palpable reverberations--and drowning harmony in quagmires of immeasurable filth only amplifies the undercurrent of torment and torture.
Total Doom//Desecration is utterly barbaric, but not just musically. Sinistrous Diabolus conjures dread, and it's a perverted and pitiless kind too--the band taking obvious pleasure in generating plenty of discomfort. The album makes for disconcerting listening, but, of course, it’s that unsettling nature that makes it such a successful release. It evokes what we all ponder in our darkest moments, and what any fan of catastrophic doom adores; that relentless and inescapable march to death.
The production on Total Doom//Desecration deserves mention too, because no such catalogue of ruination is ever going to be effective without the appropriate audio wretchedness. The album is thick and sludgy, and magnificently oppressive. With a similar mass, though less ornate, than a latter-day Esoteric, Total Doom//Desecration comes with all the raw asphyxiating weight of Winter or Indesinence. Vocals are scraped from the bowels of the earth, with sepulchral growls and indecipherable guttural chants reinforcing the album’s bone-chilling harshness. Instrumentally, the pummeling percussion, rupturing bass, and distortion-laden guitars have equally important (and equally audible) roles in contributing to the significant and notably tarnished magnitude. But what is also of note is what's behind all the noise. In those moments when Total Doom//Desecration is at its most somber, and the yawning mouth of its godforsaken depths are most exposed, there's a strong sense of something truly malevolent lurking within--something just out of sight, but something that repeated listens will clearly draw to the surface.
Ultimately, Total Doom//Desecration is ample reward for the wait. Obviously, expectations were high, but N.K.S is an artist bent to perfection, so wait we did--and it didn't help that he suffered a horrendous hand injury in an industrial accident a couple of years back. Still, it's 2013, and the debut is here, and for fans of deafening death and doom with an ear for old-school intensity (and a boiling hatred of religion) then Total Doom//Desecration is well worth checking out. For any metal fan in the southern hemisphere, it’s obviously an essential purchase; for everyone else, doubly so. After all, Total Doom//Desecration is a piece of cult metal history, and we can only hope the future is just as musically formidable and forlorn.
[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]
Note: Opus One is available as a free download on the group's Bandcamp page. You can get Total Doom//Desecration there too, but beware that it seems you will only be getting half the album if you buy it there...