Friday, September 2, 2011

Review: Apud Inferos - The Roman Uprising

Apud Inferos chose to title most of their songs in Latin, and stamped their album cover with an iconic engraving of Romulus and Remus suckling at the she-wolf's breast. There's no question that this is a tribute to the lost glories of Rome, and an attempt to call upon that legacy in the service of some kind of illiberal politics. Yet the Rome of The Roman Uprising is not the Rome of the forum and the amphitheater, not the Rome of martial pomp and imperial splendor. This music calls up Rome's half-forgotten, half-repressed memories of its origins.

For before there was Rome, there was Etruria, a dusklit land of kings and tombs. The Etruscans moved with reverence through a bronze-age dream, a world consecrated by Cthonic gods. For this ancestral people, the combat between gladiators was not merely a public spectacle. It was, rather, a rite of human sacrifice, in which the fallen were finished off and carried away by winged psychopomps. The Etruscans lived close to death, and they carved elaborate funerary statues. Their dead reclined, at ease, smiling into the darkness at some secret invisible to living eyes.

And then the old shadows withered away under the bright Roman sun. Commerce and bureaucracy crowded out ritual, and the old gods were abandoned or worked into the lowest tiers of the new celestial hierarchy. The Etruscans were remembered less as the Republic's forefathers than as tyrants from whose yoke it had escaped.

But origins have a habit of not going away, and Etruria lingered on, hidden in the very heart of Rome. In the folk religion and in the aristocratic cults. In the gates of Janus and the rites of Lupercal. In the very possibility of the nation's absolute commitment to its own myth. How else to explain the reserves of savagery that powered the world's greatest civilization?

Apud Inferos sing the song of Etrurian Rome. They plumb the depths of history with a unique form of droning, dissonant black metal. This is remorselessly inaccessible music, but--for those brave enough to take the plunge--the rewards are great. With their mix of warped harmonies and whiplash punk riffs, Apud Inferos are reminiscent of Darkthrone on Under A Funeral Moon, but that comparison doesn't really do them justice. They take Darkthrone-esque riff ideas and strip them down to their barest essentials, so that what remain are archetypal forms, ur-riffs. In their simplicity, they are elegant and memorable. Then the band stretches them out, lingering over tremolo lines that other bands might run through more quickly, but never letting the drums fall back from their relentless pace. Finally, they repeat one of these phrases until the buildup of tension is uncontrollable, and pushes forcefully into the next. It's clear that Apud Inferos have a deep understanding of musical time, and on this album they take full advantage of black metal's temporal openness.

But this isn't Apud Inferos' only play on the concept of time. While the album's atmosphere pulls us into the past, its production is highly modern, even futuristic. The drumset is clearly a machine, and it's not attempting to be anything else, hammering away with inhuman speed and precision. The guitars reverberate with a frigid, metallic buzz. Everything sounds crystal clear and full of power. Apud Inferos have created what is essentially an industrial black metal album, and yet it hearkens back to the primitive roots of Rome.

The Roman Uprising collapses the distinction between what has passed and what is yet to come. It is a vision of the past, but also a vision for the future. A quintessentially Heideggerian band, Apud Inferos have grasped their history at its origins and, in so doing, have opened up a path ahead. This album is a crushing blow against the present, against a black metal scene stripped of strength and a world stripped of myth.

Note: I decided to review this spontaneously, after listening to it for the first time in a couple years. The idea came to me all at once, so I had to strike while the gladius was sharp, so to speak. I've lapsed a bit in reviewing stuff people have sent me. Next week (or sooner) expect reviews of Aurvandil's Yearning and Infera Bruo's debut EP.

Buy this album on Amazon

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