Black metal is not currently, nor has it ever been, known for being easily digestible listening. Walls of sound do not engender such a quality; harsh, biting production and maximalist output defy the existence of such a trait. This isn’t to say bands within the blackened realm have never been known to play with such a concept – there are plenty of bands that bring a melodic or calmer approach to the genre – but few and far between are the black metal bands that actively encourage such a trait or let it define their music. Songs tend to be monochromatic in character, all furious sound and gnashing teeth, and little is explored in the way of accessibility or an inviting nature to those unacquainted with the genre’s tropes.
As if specifically to shatter this statement, along comes the new album from German black metal veterans Imperium Dekadenz: Dis Manibvs is as close to the “easy listening” descriptor as any artist has yet to get. The abrasion and corrosive energy typical of the genre is tempered with an edge of the spiritual – not too surprising, given the name translates loosely from Latin as “To the Spirits,” an inscription often used on Roman graves – that suggests almost a radiant, light edge to the otherwise cold and distant music. An echoing melancholy worms its way into the music often; the title track is perhaps the best example as the group adopts a more midtempo approach before exploding skywards once more, atmospheric melodies playing off one another as the band rises and rises towards a cathartic sense of climax before melting into a calm instrumental passage that immediately follows the song.
This give and take between aggression and passivity, light and dark, is the hallmark of Dis Manibvs. The band moves often between a typically energetic style of quasi-atmospheric black metal, rife with simple, earworm melodies, raspy vocals, and blast-beat drumming, and a more reserved sound that serves mostly as interludes between the all-out assaults that make up the majority of each track. An oscillation such as this is relatively easy, and relies mostly on listeners being entranced enough by what they hear to either not grasp or not care about the simplicity of Imperium Dekadenz’s formula; however, it works well in this instance because the band’s sound is suited well to the moments of contemplation scattered throughout.
The clarity of the album’s production is an enormous boon: with a more raw, biting sound, Dis Manibvs would lose the subtlety and poise that lend it its power, and the whole record would be stripped of most, if not all, ability to bring a listener to the transcendental, ethereal heights it occupies. Drums boom and crash over one another, guitars shimmer with a brilliant radiance, and the vocals sit comfortably in the middle of it all, adding flesh to an already thick sound for the final extra push it needs to really hit home.
To reiterate, the nature of black metal all but forbids any sort of accessibility or easy listening traits, but this record seems to strain for those qualities. Lo and behold, it’s not a futile effort, and Imperium Dekadenz have an album on their hands that provides the sort of atmospheric, grim, emotional experience that lies at the core of black metal, while offering a level of elegance not often found within it, especially among such a straightforward band. Although it’s by no means a revelation within the genre, Dis Manibvs is an album fans of black metal would be remiss to ignore, and this goes doubly so for those who have skirted the genre in the past but found it a little too harsh or uncompromising for their ears.