In the never-ending quest to reconnect with our youth, perhaps because it offers us a glimpse into what we perceived as better times, cassette tapes have become the alternative format du jour. And it makes sense. First off, cassette tapes are very inexpensive to produce when compared to, say, vinyl. Second, they are a nifty little package that is easily photographed for Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr or whatever social media app is cool by the time this review posts. This isn’t to demean the cassette tape movement. It’s definitely an advantageous way to easily create some buzz. At any rate, out of the time period of Tiberius (early first century) are drawn the melodies, themes and dark spaces carved out by Cult of Erinyes across what is potentially their final album (being released on tape), Tiberivs.
Corvus, half of the brains behind Cult of Erinyes, uses the project as a portal for his brain to harken back to other times and places. For Tiberivs his mind drifted to a rather specific era in the history of the Roman empire. Drawing each musical composition from a specific memory, so to speak. The other half, Mastema (who formulated the concept for Tiberivs), declared his intention that this be his last album before the production began. What’s in the cards for Cult of Erinyes? No one knows. But at present there’s a very solid black metal album to discuss. And, if Tiberivs is an end for Cult of Erinyes, it’s certainly some end. By far their most cohesive and successful work to date, Tiberivs bobs and weaves through an endlessly undulating landscape of atmospheres linked by dark passages and fragile bridges.
Admittedly, Brussels-based duo pushed itself to their compositional limits, being supported and coaxed by their instrumental team. But, for whatever limitations they admit to, Tiberivs reveals a band more in line, dedicated perhaps, to the final product or vision. In particular, the vocals are more subdued and focused. Drawing less from Aldrahn than previous efforts, Mastema’s delivery leans rather towards a more musical approach (albeit without the clean passages of previous releases), rather than preachy and narrative. The rhythms are more dizzying than they are blasting and straight ahead and the guitars affect a more levitating style as opposed to their earlier, more standard black metal posture.
Quotes from Fargo (the TV series) close out the atmospheric intro track which slinks across the speakers like smoke across the cassette cover. Bleeding into “Nero” which is one of the more aggressive tracks. The distortion on the guitar more primitive than elsewhere. The vocals more blood curdling than elsewhere. It’s the perfect track to set the tone. Particularly as the vocals begin a call and response and the track falls into a somewhat moderately paced gallop. As the decay begins, around the three-and-a-half-minute mark, Tiberivs becomes its own. The darker, more sordid atmosphere begins to dominate the direction. The guitars tear off on a solo adventure, harmonizing and leapfrogging throughout the latter third of the track.
Tracks three and four (respective “Casus Belli” and “Bred For War”) are inextricably linked as a set. A seeming wall of guitars floods forth bringing Mgla to mind (only to be reinforced by the accompanying vocals). Across the more than ten minutes that comprises both tracks, the ebbs and flows of composition build slowly only to decay into desolate landscapes. Each time the crescendo builds there are new touches and flourishes nearly imperceptible at first blush. Again, the guitar shines using overlapping, near-chromatic lines to build and release tension. As the tracks bleed together, rhythm guitars drone on lulling the listener into a methodical rhythm before the tension is slowly reintroduced.
And, here’s where the album really shine. As “Bred For War” tucks tail, “Loner” bursts through the smoky curtain and settles into a groovy, melodic wave of off-kilter rhythms and rolling progressions. At under five minutes, “Loner” is one of the shorter, non-introductory, tracks on Tiberivs. Yet, for all its brevity it’s succinct, direct and completely effective. Riding it’s heavier outro, harkening back to earlier works by Cult of Erinyes, it flows easily into the following track with nearly a distinction to be found. Seamless precision.
Drawing away from the success of Tiberivs is it’s length. At nearly an hour, there’s plenty that could be edited away to reveal a more easily digested record. Regardless, the length isn’t prohibitive as Tiberivs employs enough trick and shade to keep the more engaged listener attuned to the presentation. And, even if you’re hardly paying attention, you will be needed to flip the cassette tape when necessary. Regardless, it’s never a downer to have more of a good thing. And Tiberivs is definitely a good thing. The album is more than just a gimmicky collection or something to post online for cred. Rather, Tiberivs is a serious endeavor packed with excellent musicianship, plenty of recognizable influences and more than a touch of saccharin emotion.