Abysmal Grief & Runes Order – Split EP Vinyl Review

Abysmal Grief   Runes Order Split cover

It’s been a while since some decent doom came our way, but here, with this split release from Italian Doom Metal Records, we get two excellent bands each offering up their own take on doom metal. Side A of this special, vinyl release, is courtesy of the Horror Doom metal band, Abysmal grief’ who give us the 14 minute ‘hymn of the afterlife’ whilst side B comes from the dark ambient band Runes Order who offer up a near 19 minute track in the form of ‘snuff the nun’. What immediately sets this release apart is the fact that both bands conjure a unique atmosphere that is far away from the typical exercises in Sabbath worship that tends to characterize the genre. This is music for the senses and it is a dark, morbid release redolent of dark passions and the dark stain of spilled blood.

Having been active since 1996, Abysmal grief are hardly new to the Italian scene. A macabre act, their music is characterised by slow, gloomy, ceremonial keyboards and echoing voices intoning arcane rites. Best compared to the likes of Goblin (who sound tracked the legendary Dario Argento movie Susperia), Abysmal Grief build an atmosphere over the course of the track, introducing throbbing bass and reverb-laden drums that, rather than drive the track forward, seem to suffocate under the claustrophobic weight of the sampled voices and droning bass. This is not music for the timid, and it requires a certain amount of fortitude to allow the record to spin naturally to a conclusion. For doom fans it is manna from… well, from wherever doom fans collect manna from, but for the uninitiated it is a horror-ride to hell, dark, foreboding and entirely remorseless. Utilizing a repetitive template that sees the music cycle endlessly around one simple idea, with each subsequent pass augmented and expanded upon, listeners may be reminded of early Swans material in the way that the music grinds and builds, albeit a Swans stripped of their industrial armour and placed deep into a cavern from which the sound emanates, murky and clothed in a sense of feral desperation.

Runes Order are essentially a one man act masterminded by Claudio Dondo. Having begun his career back in 1988, there is little that Claudio has not experimented with, having started out using synths, tape loops and even home-made instrumentation. Runes order itself came into being in 1992, and the band is characterized by the use of swirling, metallic guitar and an air of decaying decadence that recalls Miss Havisham’s broken monument to a wedding that never took place. Featuring vocals from Alex De Siena who was his partner in the Star Matter project, ‘snuff the nun’ is a disturbing cross between Jarboe’s solo work, and the earliest, darkest recesses of My Dying Bride’s career. This is doom metal shorn of the metallic aspects and romanticised elements so often found in more mainstream offerings and recast as a bone-dry, mesmerising paean to the dark forces. As with the Abysmal Grief track, the lengthy run time passes with remarkable swiftness considering the weighty content, and the track, divided into five separate movements, contains remarkable variety whilst still remaining tethered to the central conceit.

Italian Doom Metal Records is a wonderful project born of an unholy passion for doom metal. Clearly the agenda here is to spread the word of underground bands rather than to make a fistful of dollars and it shows in the care and attention to detail the label lavish upon their releases. With only 500 copies available (200 in grey, 300 in black and the first 60 of each with a signed certificate), this is a limited collector’s run that is well worth investing in. For your money you are getting two stunning and highly individual tracks from two of Italy’s most intriguing doom metal bands. It is not easy music. It is dark, atmospheric and disturbing. However, if you’re a doom fan, you should expect no less, and this release should be high on your list.

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