If we take into consideration that 'From Dead Temples (Towards the Ast'ral Path)' was released already seventeen years ago, and that the last Altar of Perversion recording dates from 2006, we could almost consider 'Intra Naos' as a return from the dead for these Italian masters of the dark sounds. Although they were only in a latent mode and have actually been working on this record from quite some time.
For those who do not not them, Altar of Perversion could be considered as the direct continuation of that Black Metal scene that was forged in Italy by bands such as Mortuary Drape, Necromass (in which the two members of Altar of Perversion used to play, and which I always found quite underrated) or the early Opera IX ('Sacro Culto' rules eternally!), with that inclination for the occult, necromancy and Pan-European mythology and cults. Although Altar of Perversion had a slightly different approach in sonic terms.
Focusing on their new offering, the three records of which the vinyl version of 'Intra Naos' is comprised (two in the case of the CD version) come packaged in a three-folded gatefold sleeve, embellished by a visual introduction to Altar of Perversion's world by Denis Forkas (Wrathprayer, Altars, Behemoth, Grave Miasma ... ) which anticipates the ghastly, eerie and sinister approach they have to the Black Metal genre, and complemented by illustrations for each of the songs taken from the Sinister Tarot of the O9A, an organisation and philosophical path that also finds representation in the lyrics of the band.
When you enter for the first time the realms of such a vast world as the one they have created on their sophomore release, comprised of six songs whose average length is around twenty minutes, you must do it, first, with a good dose patience and an open mindset, as you know you will not catch even a glimpse of the whole. The journey through these six pieces is exhausting, suffocating and requiring a lot of focus, which can only come through repetition and a step by step digestion of every piece and part. It's definitely not an easy experience.
One striking thing of Altar of Perversion's vision on Black Metal is how it sticks at all levels (form, soul and sound) to the very first glimpses of the second wave of the genre. Despite many bands try to replicate that sound and, by that, try to reach the same levels of spiritual depth and mysticism, most can simply not understand it's not only a matter of a raw sound. This being said, the new offering of these two Italians keeps the rawness of their precedent recordings and does not distance from it. It only takes a less chaotic and slighlty less dirty approach, which would match the nature of these new songs. It's interesting to find out that is was captured by a certain Leo Magnolfi who actually does not seem to have had any previous relation to the genre, if I can rely on the Net.
But there's also quite a big step forward on this record in terms of composition. It's not only a matter of the length of the songs and the fact this allows them to develop the ideas a lot more, using monotony and loops as a tool to hyptonize the listener. Which in some way gives me the impression of always swiming in the same cold and nauseating waters, across the whole record, despite not really repeating exact resources. It's also a matter of a much more diverse use of the tempos, keeping the fast parts, which are even faster and more blasting and tight, but also frequently falling into mid-paced and pretty slow and heavy ones, that give a doomier and thicker aspect to their sound. And definitely the fact that they use layers of instruments in a more cohesive way, sometimes overloading the ambience, or even turning it slightly noisy, to reach a truly haunting atmosphere.
And there is something above all this. I don't know if it's the constant dissonant atmosphere, which they have pushed a lot more forward, becoming one of the main characteristics of this record. Or maybe it's the ghostly bass lines that lead the songs from start to end. It could even be the fact that they recorded it attuned at 432 Hz. But every time I play it, it gives me the fucking chills. It's not an effect or feeling emerging from the melodies or the riffs. It's a vibration in the air that surrounds me. It's a coldness in my insides. It's a real presence.
It's actually surprising to read so many comparisons between their sound and Darkthrone's at this point, as I do not think their songs distill the same type of feelings at all. It's maybe more related to the fact that they keep an approach to the genre and it's sound that it's true to its roots. The evolution from 'From Dead Temples (Towards the Ast'ral Path)' to 'Intra Naos' makes me definitely think a lot more about how bands such as Mayhem, Emperor or Burzum went from the rawness and simplicity of their first recordings to the more mystical and atmospheric approach of their next releases (a great example would be the difference we can find between 'Deathcrush' and 'De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas'). Although 'Intra Naos' vision of the genre might now have closer ties to how bands such as Abigor, Nightbringer or Funeral Mist. Even Celestia comes to mind from time to time, if we look into the more melancholic and morbid ambiances of the record.
I won't go further with this as I could keep speaking, but the best way to understand what lies between the gates of 'Intra Naos' is to explore it, to experience it, to let it devour you. It might take some patience though, but such is the left hand path, isn't it? I just hope the band will also take into consideration re-releasing their first album now.
Gia Thanatos is a webzine dedicated to music for the apocalyptic times. No matter the scene or genre it comes from, and mainly chosen according to its author's taste.