Review Summary: Down the hatch
Death metal multi-instrumentalist Dario Derna (AKA Numinas) has been a purveyor in the underground U.S. scene since his work with seminal acts Infester and Evoken in the early '90s. It’s fascinating to see someone whose creative touch is seen in several important metal groups - and in a variety of roles - converge into a single entity successfully. The Ritual Chamber project feels like an homage, but at the hands of someone who helped forge the respective scene (“nostalgic” just doesn’t seem suitable to describe it). Perhaps the grizzled, doom-infused DM is Numinas blowing the dust off of old scriptures, then scribbling some modern formulas in the empty space: unpredictable time signatures, tempo shifts, and a slew of ambiguous moods. Ritual Chamber’s debut full-length, Obscurations (To Feast on the Seraphim)
, is similar to 2013’s The Pits of Tentacled Screams
in that it really isn’t mile-a-minute ferocity; it finds an equilibrium between unbridled rage and calm, disciplined brooding.
Whereas Infester’s To The Depths of Degradation
was comparably perverse and demonic, Obscurations
feels more relatable and humanlike, as it seems to realistically dwell on its revulsion rather than roll around in it without a second thought. Opener “Into the Collective Coffin” brims with consternation before tumbling off a cliff, whereas Infester would probably hurl someone into a chasm of spikes. Here, the cavernous sound is buried under rocks and roots, with every riff percolating through decaying bodies and aquifers. While analogies of over-the-top hellishness are often a given in DM descriptions, Obscurations
feels less blatantly supernatural. It doesn’t really feel metaphysical, but rather the result of an ancient being buried for decades, building hatred contemplatively. One can imagine Derna encased in dirt and shackles for so long, he’s developed a sort of imprisoned wisdom (imagine Sisyphus after an eon of pushing a boulder uphill). Throughout its runtime, the album teeters between possession and bitter repentance, basking in fire yet longing for clemency, if only a little. As a whole, Obscurations
is neither furious nor delighted in its wickedness; it often feels frustrated and indeterminate in where it falls on the moral spectrum. “Beings of Entropy”, for example, has a triumphant, racing instrumental passage at its midpoint that could be a watershed for a spiritual push, but soon falls through a sinkhole into clawing disgust.
is interspersed with little moments like that. Dario Derna’s latest effort develops a weird subterranean aura, where the instrumentation feels suppressed and dusty, yet occasionally musters immense power. The guitar work on “Toward a Malignant Bliss” is massive, with addictive riffs (especially after the four-minute mark) alongside some of Numinas’ best drum work in years. Every cymbal crash hits with ship-sinking impact, and the vocal work is most convincing in that particular number. Usually the rock-gargling grumble lends to the confined, murky atmosphere, but sometimes it borders on hokey, like the final moments of “The Eternal Eye”. The influence of Profound Lore records is also evident; the overall sound is a departure from the EP, and feels a bit less mucky, to its detriment. The sense of torment was more convincing on Tentacled Screams
, rather than indecisively sluggish; it takes Obscurations
longer to establish its tenets. On the upside, the album is somewhat interesting to examine in this sense. Closer “As Dust And The Animal” ’s final moments are probably the most important, yet vague. The whole track is beastly and dense, with Derna’s vocals at their most desperate; but, the organ noises at the end shine like light through the rafters, only to be swallowed in fiendish spite. Once the dust settles, what’s most compelling is the uncertainty regarding whether this is really a story of victory or defeat.