In Cauda Venenum
In Cauda Venenum

The cover art of In Cauda Venenum features an oil painted skull, or some decrepit face.  You aren’t exactly sure but the artist painted a clearly defined creature to start.  Stark, and ugly, but fine in composition and clear to any viewer.  An important lesson for any artist is to challenge themselves, letting go of pure technique and introducing methods to expand beyond what might come natural, rattling their own sensibilities.   For our subject artist that meant obscuring their original painting with violent smearing strokes.  One could assume they even ditched the brush and got truly physical, dragging and winding their fingers through the undried paint.  Ultimately making for a more striking and disturbing work than what was.  More impactful for both the viewer and the creator.

In Cauda Venenum has similarly executed such methodology on black metal with their re-released 2009 debut.  The hallmarks of traditional black metal are all present but the predictable structure and sound is smeared with post rocks general disregard for such tenets.  The album is made up of two works that received this treatment, titled respectively “Alpha”, and “Omega”.  Each distorted stroke is nearly identical in length at about 20 minutes.   The band roster is N.K.L.S., player of most instruments and vocals, and drumer I, Ictus.  All of this talk about art serves because N.K.L.S. means the record as tribute to architect Walter Gropius.  Gropius founded the famous Bauhaus school where he intended that sculpture, painting, applied, and visual art combine as inseparable components of a new architecture.  Folks, you can’t scream post-metal any damn louder than this.  Long songs, high concept, and meticulously arranged shifting song structure.

“Alpha” begins and reminds me immediately of the lead track “Karhunkynsi” from Moonsorrow’s Verisakeet album, but compressed down to four minutes and less vikings.  A dark ambient backdrop moves to a martial beat and synth horns, buzzing guitars before finally shifting dramatically into full on but controlled blasting/tremolo fury. Not as effective but you understand their intent:  Start in with the atmosphere; A little fog rolling through an ominous red lit hallway, making for uneasy jitters before the maddened artist begins hammering with purpose through the door of his new apprentice’s room!  If this album were a film it would definitely be French art-house horror. The remaining 15 minutes ebb through various blackened post-rock parts before fading to a drawn out guitar riff and distant human commotion.  “Omega” plays out quite similarly.

Credit to the writing that an album of two, 20 minute songs didn’t play out as one 40 minute equivalent to a staring contest.  Metal listeners at large are patient listeners but, you know, we expect something in return.  Each song is constantly morphing but N.K.L.S. manages smooth changes between each shifting section; like watching liquid mercury rise up and down a tilting thermometer.  However, that thermometer, it never feels close to bursting.  Through the course of this record the constant shifting kept me present, but at no point was I caught up in fervor, or felt my stomach drop from the threatening musical turbulence.  One sticking issue I had was that on headphones I was able to catch some really interesting guitar leads spread throughout; odd sharp melodies or weaving accompaniments to the rhythm guitar.  Even on headphones these were mixed pretty far back, and certainly not clear on my car or living room stereo.  I believe the record would have benefited by bringing those parts up and tempering the very up front rhythm guitar.

To conclude, like that imaginary French art film, there are a lot of stylish looking parts, and good cinematography but…what really happened?  Whether you find that ambiguity to be annoying, or subtly compelling, is dependent on the person.  It’s worth a listen to decide.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Mars Budziszewski
August 5th, 2015

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