Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The few, the proud, the tortured

As I said in my post about Wormphlegm, I'd be following it up with a post detailing a handful of torture doom artists who actually make good on their promises of sickness and overwhelming oppression. Most torture doom bands kind of suck because they don't understand the subtler elements of the music: developed song structures, unique melodic sensibilities, and a well-crafted aesthetic, all of which come together in the following bands to make that rarest of breeds: the worthwhile torture doom band. Note that some of these artists might not fall into the category of "torture doom" as some purists might describe them, but whatever; it's about a feeling, not a set of bylaws.


Senthil began, in my mind, as a pretty standard Wormphlegm-worship project. One of the first out of the gate after the torture doom concept exploded, they started off with the "Crypticorifislit" demo, which is a pretty listenable if relatively generic slab of torture doom that gained them a lot of attention. Unfortunately, they followed this with a split with Portuguese funeral doom band Bosque, who ended up greatly overshadowing them; their side of the split, in the form of the sprawling, two-part "Premeditation," came off as slapped together, overlong, and distinctly repetitive. After hearing this, a lot of torture doom fans (including myself) basically wrote them off as another failed attempt at Wormphlegm's unbelievable heights.

But this turned around significantly with their cassette-only EP "Septisemesis," which you can hear above. With this release, Senthil finally found their legs and broke away from the remaining similarities to Wormphlegm which still lingered in their sound. Senthil's style became realized as a potent, malignant breed of basement-crafted torture doom, more caked in filth and dissonance than nearly any other band in the style. While bands like Wormphlegm celebrate medieval torture and occultism, and others like Funeralium concentrate on drugged out depictions of nightmarish depression and insanity, Senthil decided to make the torture doom of the modern serial killer. Rather than a refined, clean sound, the music of "Septisemesis" brings to mind the sort of bloodscapes found in films like "August Underground," where innocent, unwitting victims are subjected to unspeakable rituals of cackling mutilation and humiliation, streaked with blood, cum, and shit before finally dying, slowly and painfully, in concrete cellars filled with rusty knives, fetish porn, and the ghosts of a dozen others past and future. It's an intensely real and disturbing style that truly brings a new face to the torture doom style.

(Plague is also a pretty cool guy. I still prefer his other project, Nivathe, to his better-known work in Senthil, but this tape is certainly worth a look.)

Planet AIDS

It's to the great misfortune of the doom scene that Planet AIDS only managed to produce a single EP before breaking up, but it's so fucking good that I'm willing to celebrate them anyway. Taking a very different tact with the torture doom style than most, Planet AIDS juxtaposed extreme funeral/drone doom with noise and ambient elements, with a distinct emphasis on electronics which helped to set them far apart from the pack. Their sole, monolithic work, "Apocalyptik AIDS," is a brilliantly realized one-track composition which slowly and painfully develops over the course of 28 excruciating minutes, with slow, thunderous programmed drums distantly pounding under a bed of feedback-soaked, maliciously dissonant guitar, slowly articulating more detailed "riffs" as the tempo increases, before the insistent throb of destruction and darkness explodes and dissociates into what sounds like completely improvised noise.

The real star of the show, however, is the vocal performance, which stands to me as one of the most remarkable in the history of heavy metal period. A ranting, dogmatic declaration from some sort of perverted and obsessive priest, the lyrics are taken entirely from the Book of Revelations, describing in dramatic detail the ultimate end of the world as we know it. When juxtaposed with the heinous, malignant music that slowly swirls and writhes beneath, what is designed to be a statement of God's eternal glory and magnificence becomes a hellish dreamscape of darkness, suffering, and the ultimate triumph of evil on the planet that once was our home. It's tough to get through but a very worthwhile piece nonetheless; I tend to listen to it two or three times a year, and each time it's as enthralling as the last.

Stabat Mater

The funeral doom project of Mikko Aspa of Deathspell Omega, Stabat Mater is a wonderful example of what can be done with torture doom's most traditional elements. Unlike many of the other bands listed here, Stabat Mater is extremely conventional, using the standard funeral doom tropes of slow, mournful lead guitar, static, pounding drums, and deep, cavernous growls- even the song structure of "Give Them Pain" is little more than an alternation between two main riffs. What makes it so compelling is Aspa's intuitive grasp of long, sinuous melodies and how to use the degraded production to the ultimate benefit of the music itself. Of course, the real centerpiece of this track in particular is the seemingly endless, utterly horrific sample of a woman being whipped and screaming in pain. It's not a loop, and Aspa's position as a publisher of BDSM pornography suggests that the sounds are taken from his own personal collection. The screams are some of the most heinous found on a metal track- wildly unhinged and alternately loud and distant, they often dissociate into a mewling, defeated whimper- perhaps even more frightening than the more obviously horrendous sounds.

Stabat Mater brings essentially nothing new to the funeral doom table, but executes the style so well that it rises head and shoulders above the rest of the torture doom scene. While "Give Them Pain" stands out as a particular gem in the project's sporadic and irregular catalog, most of the other material is just as good, with perhaps the most distinct apex being "Above Him," the sprawling paean of Christian defeat found on the 6-way "Crushing the Holy Trinity" split. While I think Aspa's output tends to vary wildly in quality, Stabat Mater is among his most consistent and worthwhile work.

Black Bile

Much to my chagrin, Black Bile doesn't have any samples available on Youtube for you to check out- which isn't much of a surprise, as the Cypriot project's output is limited to a 100-pressed CDr demo which sold out of just about every distro on the planet within a couple months of its release. Cut distinctly and unapologetically from a Wormphlegm-cum-Senthil mold, "Cloacal Meditation" is an unbearably creepy, basement-recorded exploration of the blackest reaches of human misery. "Cloacal Meditation" doesn't develop so much as wander, lost and alone, over the course of its 29 minute running time- I feel it's best described as the soundtrack to someone trapped in an ancient labyrinth of sewers or catacombs, desperately feeling along the stone walls in pitch darkness for any sort of exit. It's harrowing, filthy, and immensely hopeless, making it a demanding listen even within the already demanding niche of torture doom. If you think you can stomach it, it's certainly worth a try from the style's seasoned veterans.


Rounding out the pack is Bunkur, one of the oldest entries in the style who tend to take a lot of flack for their admittedly somewhat pretentious style. Omitting six-string guitars entirely for a dual-bass attack, many have described their style as "ultradoom," owing to their infatuation with the most straightforward cliches of doom driven to their most absurd conclusions. Bunkur is far on the droning side of the torture doom style, tending to smash a single riff into the listener's forehead for an almost interminably long time before changing things up. What makes them worthwhile, though, is their particular atmosphere; Bunkur sounds like World War I given a soundtrack, with the grinding monotony and horror of trench warfare represented by the equally grinding and horrific repetition of the music itself. While it's hardly the sort of thing a first timer should be exploring, there's more to their music than might first be let on- even if it arrives from there actually being less than nearly anyone else.


  1. The few, the proud, the autistic

  2. You're missing a few great bands here, although your taste isn't bad at all. The Woodsmoke label released some amazing lo-fi, filthy as fuck Doom with very dark aesthetics (Elu Of Nine, Ancestortooth, Leech, and of course the great Munn, etc) and the sister label of the great Noise label Chondritic Sound, Elephant Graveyard, put out some pretty sickening material in 2009 like Wire Werewolves, Sacred Assault, Cadaver In Drag and Rapers most of which is more Noise/PE driven since the projects belong to a lot of Noise makers. I posted a lot of this stuff over on my old blog the Funeral Stench and you can find a few more bands like this talked about on my forums: http://stenchforums.net

    Great blog.