I understand Incubus fills a vital role behind the Inquisition drum kit, but his handy precision has mostly been shadowed beneath his co-conspirator Dagon’s one-two punch of riffing and off-kilter ribbiting. Not to take away from Incubus’ talents — the guy is an extremely capable black metal drummer with a surprisingly elegant touch when the mood calls for it — but let’s just establish this right here-and-now: you will never have an Inquisition record as your co-pilot unless you can tackle the inseparable package deal of Dagon’s riff ‘n’ ribbit.
Loving the riff side of the coin will, of course, be as natural as taking a breath for most of us, so allow me to attack the biggest roadblock right off the bat so the vocal sticklers in the house can excuse themselves to go roll around in the yard.
Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm, apart from being the most kingly thing you’d ever witness on an episode of Wheel of Fortune, sports three different release dates, two of which fell into the closing months of last year, which explains why you’ve already seen it hit a few “favorites of 2010” lists. Such positive press has delivered a lot of fresh ears to the Inquisition camp, despite their being a part of the black metal community for over two decades and counting. And whenever new folks first stumble upon Inquisition, you can bet one of the first things to pop out of their mouths has something to do with, “what the holy shit is going on with that dude’s voice?”
Tracheotomy voice box, reptilian regurgitation, impish wheeze, etc. — all the descriptors you’ve seen in regards to Dagon’s voice are pretty much on the mark. He croaks like a sci-fi toad, warbles like a sickly, bleating goat that’s just had a stroke, and dies like a melting Abbath slowly reaching a liquified hand to the sky for his final curse. If that sounds like shit to you, then you will hate Inquisition and have no reason to give them another moment of thought. But for those of us who enjoy the challenge of an extremely atypical vocalist, Dagon’s unique delivery stands as an essential piece to the Inquisition puzzle and suitably takes a primary role in Ominous Doctrines once again.
While I’d comfortably say this record still shows evidence of the noxiousness prevalent on the band’s early releases, Ominous Doctrines brazenly continues the band’s efforts to clear up the production, resulting in the most accessible work in the Inquisition catalog. In truth, I think 2007’s near-perfect Nefarious Dismal Orations struck the perfect balance between filth and a slightly cleaner sheen; this sort of arctic black metal doesn’t need to be clear as ice, especially when such a thing over-emphasizes the fact that Dagon doesn’t use a lot of power to deliver his ghoulish rasp. Still, you take the good with the bad, and while Inquisition‘s newly polished production does indeed dilute the poison and bring light to the darkness, it also serves well to enhance the band’s epic-ness, giving Ominous Doctrines an added hint of “dusty road companion,” similar to I‘s Between Two Worlds.
The glory is most blatant whenever the pace is slow(-to-mid) and Dagon’s unmistakable majestic jangle takes center stage. “Desolate Funeral Chant”, for example, starts off woozily and dripping with corrupt molasses, but opens up right around the 2:55 mark for an extended measure of snail-strutting that makes it feel like the perfect comrade to a slow motion scene stretching the open road. And although album opener “Astral Path to Supreme Majesties” charges from the snowbank like a pissed wolverine, Dagon’s blithe fret-play and the ensuing sweeping lead at the 1:35 mark feels as epicly triumphant as Conan standing with a severed head dangling from his fist.
But it’s not all slow-motion sweeps and noble posturing on snowy mountain tops. The heart of “Cosmic Invocation Rites” and “Upon the Fire-winged Demon” both blister and sting like a cloud of angry bees, with the latter closing out somberly (and oddly enough, repeating the 1:00 instrumental cut, “Conjuration”) and the prior being bolstered by the record’s nastiest riff break-out a minute in. In addition, “Crepescular Battle Hymn” allows Incubus to flex some grim heft with the album’s most aggressive battery and folds in a classic little sample amongst the galloping charge that sounds like a walk-around meet-and-greet if one were starting their first day of work in Hell: “this is Asmodeo, Superintendent of Hell; Astaroth, the Occidental Duke and Infernal Treasurer.” (can anyone confirm if this was taken from the 1976 film, Inquisición? Seems likely.)
I hold firmly that 2007’s Nefarious Dismal Orations is a stronger record overall, and I don’t believe Ominous Doctrines would have crept into my top ten last year had I had the opportunity to rip into it as often as I have over this past week, but the mere mention of the fact that the record continues the tradition of mopping the floor with more riffs than an Immortal club sandwich slathered in Carpathian bbq sauce should be enough to make it an essential pick-up for those who already love the band. And for those out there who remain Inquisition virgins, I’d advise a cautious approach if you don’t like the idea of diving headfirst into an epic black metal band fronted by one of the genre’s most ghoulish and sickly imps.