Back in 1997, a tour was announced that would forever change the way my then-eighteen-year-old self thought about music. Much could be (and was) said about the awe-inspiring coalition of Entombed and Neurosis, yet it was the off-kilter, crushing darkness of opening band Breach that truly challenged me as a music fan. With Terra Tenebrosa, an unknown, anonymous collective excepting their discernible ties to Breach, their sound was, at first, something entirely unexpected, and yet deep beneath the nightmarish, avant-garde wanderings of debut album The Tunnels lurked stylistic traces of Breach’s forward-thinking, experimental final releases Kollapse and Godbox that are wholly indisputable.
From the onset of The Reverses, it becomes immediately clear that the band have continued to expand their scope and sound to bolster their already-impressive back catalogue. The mastermind behind the project — a masked individual known only as The Cuckoo — previously claimed that the band’s new material was going to be, “faster, more violent and… ugly”; it doesn’t take long for the band to step up to such a claim, and as ‘Ghost at the End of the Rope’ invades the senses in a frenzied wash of claustrophobic black metal, Terra Tenebrosa’s beckoning grin becomes an altogether more sinister snarl.
‘The End Is Mine to Ride’ is an entirely different proposition, and if it weren’t for the fact that the band reside way too far down the rabbit hole to secure mainstream appeal, the gigantic pounding drums and mid-paced swagger almost hints at a rock club banger. Yet The Reverses is no Rob Zombie fun house of horrors. This is artistic expression at its most insidious, and while it clings to its avant-garde palette for dear life, it remains well-formed throughout, never becoming lost within its own ambition. A host of guest appearances (including Blut Aus Nord’s Vindsval and Aosoth’s MkM) serves to strengthen the album’s appeal, adding an external layer to the collective’s usual shrouded existence.
Label: Debemur Morti Productions
The visual aesthetic that forms such a significant part of Terra Tenebrosa’s world feels neither aimless nor contrived, instead becoming the creative stimulant that catalyses the very real sense of malevolence and dread that infects the album’s clandestine crevices. The band handle their crafted sense of unease with lithe fingers, with ‘Where Shadows Have Teeth’ and the infectiously creepy ‘Exuvia’ secreting whispered sounds of wind-up toys, creaks and groans from entities unseen; all of which comes together in a multi-layered, and quite frankly terrifying, conglomeration of extreme art.
The grand finale here is the imposing manifestation of ‘Fire Dances’ – a seventeen minute composition which brings together the band’s entire repertoire into a melting pot of rasping vocals, tribal drumming and unnerving soundscapes. Leading out with sinister, ritualistic guitar drones, The Reverses leaves its intensely heavy, suffocating mark long after the parting notes of the church organ disappear into silence.
The Reverses succeeds in delving even further into the dark underbelly of surrealistic horror than was evident on The Tunnels and The Purging — themselves both exceptional releases — and is triumphant in being both flamboyant and reticent throughout. While it shares traits with what could be accepted as black metal or any one of a handful of other sub-genres, the reality is that Terra Tenebrosa do not conform to such simplistic ideals – it is a project that is as much a work of art as it is a band, and in a similar way to Breach’s exploration off the beaten path, the trio continue to dwell within their collective psyche, and through the resulting creative force does the darkness weave its way into the minds of all who experience The Reverses.