Forgotten Tomb
Under Saturn Retrograde

Back in 1999, Italian guitarist/vocalist Ferdinando Merchisio a/k/a “Herr Morbid” made a savvy career decision, turning his hatred inward and transitioning from early and unremarkable bland metal to a pitch-grey blend of doom ‘n’ gloom dark metal heavily influenced by classic era Katatonia and Bethlehem. Eventually perfecting his take on this sound, and in the process having preemptively ruined everyone’s summer with 2003’s suicidal buzz kill Springtime Depression; Merchisio solidified his line-up and continued to release similar but solid efforts throughout the ‘00’s. Though he never strayed too far from his influences, such consistency has proved quite satisfactory for fans slighted by Katatonia’s successful change in direction and disappointed by Bethlehem’s hackneyed attempts to follow suit. Having retrospectively re-recorded some of their best cuts, along with covers of Black Sabbath, Black Flag and Nirvana on Volume V, the time seems right for Forgotten Tomb to stake out some new territory of their own.

Any such inclination is not immediately evident on album opener “Reject Existence”, a driving nihilist anthem whose chorus will have long-time fans sway-banging and goth-serving everything in sight; but things get a bit more interesting on the follow-up track, “Shutter”. Kicking off with a blackened variation of the “43% Burnt” riff, dreary sludge verses alternate with monolithic death metal choruses, building intensity. Then, out of nowhere, bassist Algol gets all stoney on us, goading the rest of the band into joining in a massive bong-hit bridge with Merchisio even singing some soulful 90’s styled doom refrain, complete with some Dorrian-like ad-libs on the fade out. Crazy stuff – not only does the tune maintain coherence despite these diversions, it still manages to sound like Forgotten Tomb all the while. “Downlift” subtly absorbs some of these new influences, while returning to the group’s comfort zone with Asher’s energetic and imaginative drumming being a particular highlight. A bit of a wrong turn, covering the only Stooges’s song that every metal bands apparently knows breaks the momentum, it may be “fun” live, but I am yawning hearing my 666th burning of this particular chestnut. Similarly, some lazy rote goth singing almost ruins “Joyless” right off the top, but Asher’s speed-bagging his double bass through the chorus combines with the exquisite lead work of Razor SK to somewhat redeem it, Merchisio even redeems himself with a bit more effort toward the song’s end.

Just when the album threatens to take a turn for the wrong kind of downer, the two-part title track takes center stage. Part 1 is vintage epic atmospheric black metal, driven once again by Asher’s performance, regarding which I could easily expend another hundred words about, but suffices it to say I’m a guitarist mentioning the drummer for the third time in a review so take it for what it is. Merchisio and Razor join forces on a brilliant twin-g harmony which blazes into Part 2 where Algol’s phased-out bass sets the distended undertone for a tangle of semi-classical guitar lines. Around the two minute turn-around the band achieves one of those transcendent moments of counter punctual synchronicity and when they finally stomp on their fuzz boxes to bring it all home, the delirious swirl is almost overwhelming. The closing numbers easily maintain the same mastery while striving to achieve the same majesty. Though both fail to do so, it’s an admirable failure, even a spectacular one, as the ending of “Spectres Over Venice” (and the album) comes dangerously close to matching the title tracks’ impact.

It is unusual for a band to be messing with their sound this much on album six, but for all that experimentation, I actually think most long-time fans will be as enthusiastic about hanging around to hear where this is going as I am. While most listeners will be sucked in by Merchisio’s greatly expanded vocabulary and Asher’s fourth-time-in-the-review-worth-mentioning drumming; Razor and Algol’s contributions can’t be ignored either, and FT might just have a definitive line-up here. On its own merits, Under Saturn Retrograde is a decent transitional album with quite a few great moments, alongside a couple of mis-steps as well, which is to be expected when a band is fucking with the formula. Provided they stick with what works here, we may be in for one of the more fascinating mid-career re-launches, and the next level awesome of what may be to come may prove this album to be one of their more important in retrospect.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by John Gnesin
May 24th, 2011

Comments

  1. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    wow, this sounds excellent.


  2. Commented by: shaden

    wtf is goth serving?
    was too much of a stoner rock record for me.their first lp is still their best.


  3. Commented by: stiffy

    Great album!


  4. Commented by: Biff_Tannen

    I also want to know what the hell goth-serving is !

    I will check this out asap, but so far they haven’t topped the first lp, “Songs to Leave”.


  5. Commented by: John Gnesin

    Goth-serving is a reference to the South Park episode where they mock the urban dance competition movie “You got served”. The goth kids form a dance troupe with Stan, I think, and refer to “goth-serving” the other dance troupes.

    To those who are still clueless to “serve” in this context is to roundly defeat an opposing dance crew in a dance-off.


  6. Commented by: Cynicgods

    Still waiting for their masterpiece but I like the path they’ve chosen. An nice broth of post-punk, stoner rock and black metal. Yum! :P


  7. Commented by: Cynicgods

    *A nice broth*. Wish we could edit comments after we post em.


  8. Commented by: elguerosinfe

    Great great album.


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