As far as it concerns a certain style of occult-related, gloomy aestethics, Italy has no doubt a glorious tradition. The fascination for Italy’s dark side is deeply rooted in time (Horace Walpole’s The Castle Of Otranto, set in Apulia and conventionally referred to as the ancestor gothic novels, was published in 1764), and surely owes most of its suggestions to the incense miasma of the Catholic curch. But the golden age of the country’s bloodiest art definitely yielded in the “horror revolution” era of the ‘70s. Iconic film director Dario Argento needs no introduction, and whoever has a fond on cult horror movies from those years surely knows the work of Italian maestros like Pupi Avati, Lucio Fulci and Mario Bava. In the same period, erotic horror comics mushroomed up in the newsstands all around the Bel Paese: Jacula, Oltretomba, Zora and other adult-only issues made the fortune of the publishing houses Edifumetto and Ediperiodici, that monopolized the industry until VHS took over. Meanwhile, Goblin, led by keyboardist and composer Claudio Simonetti, signed some unforgettable soundtracks for movies such as Profondo Rosso, Suspiria and George Romero’s Zombi.
Therefore, it makes no surprise that when heavy metal hit Italy, in the late ‘70s, it found a fertile ground and an almost physiological matching with this kind of themes. Bands like Death SS pioneered horror rock in their home country, finding their own identity somewhere between punk, King Diamond and Alice Cooper and making the news with their shows, which included costumes, crosses and naked dancers.
In 1996, when Abysmal Grief were formed in Genova, the ‘70s avantgarde was already an established fact – as well as a rich source to fully draw from. Ever since, the band released plenty of works, mostly EP and split albums, with the first proper full-length coming only in 2007. Thus their landmarks are clearly to be found into the Italian horror tradition (especially in the “doomiest” declination of artists like Paul Chain) and their sound is everything but revolutionary, Abysmal Grief were able to create their own peculiar identity and to gain a niche of devoted fans. The evocative voice of singer/keyboardist Labes C. Necrothytus, the lyrics almost obsessively recounting of funerals, dead and cemeteries, the lugubrious atmosphere of their music set a trademark through the years and made this band one very exciting act for lovers of retro-doom and horror metal.
Blasphema Secta is the fifth Abysmal Grief’s album in more than two decades, and it’s a very significant one. Within six songs spread across 45 minutes (four, if we leave out the intro and the interlude When Darkness Prevail), the band is able to balance vintage sounds, gripping ideas and enough personality to make their revival style contemporary and catchy. Even if it doesn’t really bring anything new to the band sound, Blasphema Secta stands on its own as a finely crafted example of modern doom.
A gloomy intro guides the listener down in a sepulchral darkness, where music becomes an invitation to join mysterious necromantic cults. Then, the very first bars of “Behold The Corpse Revived” establish mellow keyboards themes as one of the well-known cornerstones of Abysmal Grief’s sound. An even more effective proof of this is to be heard in the brilliant “Maleficence”: one cool, irresistible intersection between Ghost, dark rock and black metal, built on a tasty combination of pipe organ tunes and groovy guitar riffs.
Label: SUN & MOON Records!
In addition to the new tracks, Abysmal Grief find room for a cover version of “Witchlord,” a song taken from an obscure 1994 demo by Evol. The career of this other Italian band likely got lost in the sea of time, though at the time when “Witchlord” was released it shared the same label with then-newcomers Moonspell. Nevertheless, the choice to pay homage to the under-underground of the Italian occult metal scene is coherent with Abysmal Grief’s uncompromising rejection of anything that smells “mainstream.” By the way: don’t look for them on Facebook. They’re not on social media. They’re not even on Spotify (exception made for their namesake debut album and a compilation, Misfortune).
The wicked circle of Blasphema Secta closes with “Ruthless Profaners,” a powerful recap of the whole album’s strong points: heavy-influenced guitars, a slightly retro production, catchy keyboards, up-tempos (for the genre) and the baritone voice of the band’s leader, all wrapped in the mesmerizing charm of a cult horror movie of the times gone by. In case you have a taste for murky, deadly atmosphere, you can listen to the whole album here.