Review: Funereal Presence – Achatius/i>
Who opened the time capsule from 1993?
A long time ago, I read a review on Encyclopaedia Metallum from a reviewer I occasionally followed where he referred to a few the more idiosyncratic recent death metal bands with a classic-era vibe as being “retroprogressive”. While I didn’t and still don’t like the term “retro”, what he was trying to get at was clear to me. After all, creativity in metal knows few bounds and all “new” ideas didn’t spring ex nihilo out of some fretboard fiddling and blast beats. And who’s to say you can’t find territory to explore in established ideals anyways? Funereal Presence, a side project of Negative Plane drummer Bestial Devotion, debuted in 2014 to in my experience a somewhat lukewarm reception and I could hear why. Five years later however and this recent cult name in off-kilter black metal has ironed out the kinks and redoubled their efforts with a bold or rather vicious reinterpretation of the genre’s early 90’s beginnings. On their sophomore, they hearken back to the strange early days of the genre when it had just begun fully solidifying itself. A notable umber of Slavic, Greek, Italian, and South American influences hadn’t been expunged from its DNA and they explore this angle to an extent that only a scant handful of bands have even touched on today. It’s not black metal expanded and diversified as is typically the narrative for these kinds of matters but rather reimagined from the ground up; an alternative history made reality. It’s fascinating to hear how metal’s most divisive and reductionist yet for many most boldly adventurous genre could have ventured if this had been its spearhead in the 90’s.
Funereal Presence’s sound is definitively recognizable as black metal but where the genre in its most well-known Norwegian form had abstracted its roots of 80’s extremity and then separated itself from them, this American solo project had a somewhat different perspective. You’ll hear a lot of spacious and even muscular guitar work that does have the familiar sustained textural intensity you’ve come to expect over incessantly rampant drumming. The meat of it is an unusual mishmash of ideas and the star of the show in the sheer eclecticism present. You’ll hear lots of classic heavy/thrash metal riffs delivered with a choppy, fragmented manner that get stretched out and basically morphed into a very early approximation of black metal. Just as common are these glaring, jutting leads that frequently break and vary verse patterns, roaring triumphant over the tumult of their impressively aggressive attack. Combined this creates a strange flow to the guitar playing; the riffs as said earlier function like black metal ones but they’re not really streamlined enough to sound exactly like what you’d expect of the genre in its modern state, frequently breaking or pausing for additional melody to seep in or weird scurrying resolutions of flourishing notes.
Patterns start and go in oddly lopsided arrangements often backed up by bells, clean guitar, synthesized choirs, and what occasionally sounds like a xylophone giving the whole thing this manic folk like vibe. Beneath this a steady pulsing bassline subtly working in harmonies at key points that don’t quite fully shadow the riffs that flesh out the sense of maze-like depth presence. The wet snarl that narrates this disorienting journey has just enough reverb applied to it that it echoes around the previously described madness enough to have an effect of hearing something calling out your name while traveling through an unlit subterranean corridor. It’s the ideal accompaniment to the proceedings, delivered with a fire and fury that dances on the boundary of pure red-blooded madness and eerily inhuman disconnectedness. That’s the general mood of the whole thing; mystical and bewitching but guided with a hungry and impatient spirit, ravenously searching for the next dangerous high before a horrid collapse.
In terms of how each of its four 10+ minute songs are composed, Funereal Presence aren’t any less perplexing. There’s quite a few sudden pauses and changes in direction in their music in a way that reminds me of the weirder “epic” tendencies of the original first wave styled black metal bands such as Tormentor (Hngry), Sabbat (Jpn), Master’s Hammer, and Amon Goeth. However by comparison, whereas many of those bands were grasping at a vague but powerful sense of chaotic malevolence, Funereal Presence’s sound is inevitably informed by a more contemporary mindset albeit one that manifests in some unusual ways. A good deal of repetition is employed to build up tension with longer rigid introductory riffs against which shorter and more vivid ones contrast and offer fleeting glances of further thematic developments.
A sense of push and pull mechanic is implemented and enforced by the abrupt stops that comprise many of the individual portions of the songs but rather than disjointedness, they ensure each sudden shift in the gears isn’t quite as unexpected and off-putting as it might seem on paper. Each track uses a frenzy of activity to build up to a turning point, signifying the implementation of additional melody and eclectic instrumentation in patterns to follow. They all hit some incredibly powerful climaxes, often with triumphant midtempo sections or sudden mellower bridges with a melancholy tinge, frequently building into surging chordal patterns that bring a powerful finality to each of these layered songs. It can definitely be very exhausting and in their frenzied rampage through the significance of black metal’s rarely acknowledged 90’s first wave, sometimes it can feel highly disjointed or indulgent in its own variety to a nearly self-parodying degree. However there’s enough primal carnivore instinct here to keep things focused enough that you never really forget that the era they’re building on had every bit the same violence at the heart of it as the genre has today.
While even for fans of black metal’s more spikes-and-leather Mercyful Fate and Celtic Frost friendly past might not immediately click with this album, it’s very much an album for those who feel black metal peaked with bands like Crux (Cze) and Necromantia in the first half of the 90’s. Yet it would be wrong to call this a worship act. It’s forward looking from its footing on the graves of giants, forging a path of its own that almost completely ignores much of what we know about conventional black metal history. In spite of its lo-fi delivery, it doesn’t feel truly primitive either. The mind behind this project is too well learned, too studied, and too clever to fall into merely regurgitating his influences. Bestial Devotion has created a strong example that its not necessarily the influences that determine whether or not we’re opening and expanding on possibilities for metal but where we’re willing to take them and the particular mindset as both musicians and fans that we interpret and understand them. Though Negative Plane comparisons are understandable to an extent, don’t go into this expecting the follow up to Stained Glass Revelations. This is a beast of its own unusual design and one I hope to see far more from in the future.