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Atra Vetosus – Ius Vitae Necisque

Ius Vitae Necisque

Ius Vitae Necisque

This Tasmanian quintet have followed up 2013’s solid but troubled Voices from the Eternal Night LP with a twenty-two-minute EP consisting of one long, evolving composition. Like its predecessor, Ius Vitae Necisque (or, The Power of Life and Death, Latin fans) has been released via Belgian limited-edition black metal specialists Immortal Frost Productions. Whereas Voices from the Eternal Night featured some wonderfully produced examples of how the group work together as a band—such as opener ‘Skies of Obsidian Rain’—and featured a variety of ideas executed ably, many of those ideas are public domain as far as melodic black metal is concerned. While it was rare for them to put a clearly recorded foot backward, the release rarely surprised or excited.

As for this EP, structure is everything with Ius Vitae Necisque, and the movements for the album are loosely divided as follows: a classical intro bulked out with environmental field recordings such as the sea, an eventual launch into substantial black metal song territory, then a very gothic classical interlude around halfway in, a largely successful return to the main song, and then back to the classical portion for the closing minutes.

Interestingly enough, this ambitious track perseveres with many of the gothic-styled features of Voices from the Eternal Night, such as dense, almost submersed choirs, bright finger-plucked guitar melodies gently suggestive of medieval folk (without playing the wandering minstrel card too strongly), and great rushes of drumming combined with tastefully shrieked vocals. Here, however, those colourful ingredients are blended a bit too closely together in an attempt to generate a dramatic, heaving momentum by allowing the orchestral and choral parts from the aforementioned intro to blur and smear onward beneath the band’s playing. This robs the introduction of the guitars and percussion of much of their impact, as they’re denied their full frequency range and so come across muted. The intended effect may have been to communicate the impression of the instruments ‘rising up’ out of the foggy, mysterious opening, but this approach is only really effective when coupled with memorable or impressive passages. You don’t simply ‘start playing’; when the main song arrives, it is without the creeping majesty or ghostly ceremony created by the intro.

Atra Vetosus

Atra Vetosus

The second classical portion feels unwelcome at first, but whereas it is easy (and perhaps forgivable) to overlook such passages when they occur at the opening of a release, this third movement of Ius Vitae Necisque displays greater compositional intention: the melodies are firmer, the atmospherics are more integrated, and the percussion adds a stately pulse to this particular graveyard stroll. It’s difficult to ascertain whether this section eventually suffers from over-ambition or poor curating as a series of subtle ideas are so rushed through—and are, in fact, themselves rushed at a tempo which renders them ignorable—that by the time we reach the refreshing guitar solo, so much has passed and failed to develop that the whole section loses a fair amount of its character. It would be interesting to hear how this section would have played out as its own track, unburdened by the knowledge that the main attraction is surely right around the corner and that any flourishes are merely preparation for the inevitable return of the guitar and drums.

All is not wasted, however, as the second black metal movement is far more effective than its awkwardly shuffled-in predecessor: the vocals leap out and the drumming, while unremarkable, is effective and pairs well with the now even more rousing guitars, themselves benefitting from the sonic contrast to the orchestral fug of preceding minutes. While the atmospherics are left in again, swamping the main instruments, this section returns with renewed energy and sharper teeth, even if it still fails to draw blood overall.

Inevitably—and perhaps unnecessarily—the ethereal piano and atmospherics see us out as the bluster of the main band has returned to the vapour out of which they appeared twenty minutes ago. The use of a complex structure is admirable, but more consideration should really have been taken with the building materials within that frame. A truly impressive, individual black metal section would have tied the whole piece together more solidly, but as it is, most of the work appears to have gone to the classical movements. These movements are excellent and show that the band have an emerging talent for arrangement, but some of the striking features of the Voices from the Eternal Night LP, such as the more robust vocals and clearer production (sans left-over atmosphere), would have given Ius Vitae Necisque more character.

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Track List:

01) Ius Vitae Necisque

Rating: 5/10
Written by: Simon Gould
Label: Immortal Frost Productions (Belgium) / IFP032 / CD, Digital
Melodic Black Metal