originally written by Jim Brandon
File this one in the category of bands I should have heard about years ago, and somehow completely missed. Considering the fact that suicidal blackened doom is like sweet fruit of the vine for me and a few others around these parts, it’s surprising that more of us aren’t raving over Italy’s Forgotten Tomb, although their four-year absence might have a little something to do with it. After a thorough investigation of their back catalogue, Under Saturn Retrograde is the most easily digested chapter in their history, picking up where the palatable Negative Megalomania directly left off, and continuing to depart from the grittier, utterly despondent desperation contained in the Leviathan/Xasthur slant of their first three releases.
It’s immediately apparent that this particular disc is a smoother, suppler endeavor right from the start, with lighter shades of Lost To The Living and scant bits of Tonight’s Decision spreading across the surface of opener “Reject Resistance” like a translucent film. The rock-ish brighter death they now display almost exudes a strangely shimmering quality that is somewhat off-putting considering the content, and Herr Morbid (really?) enunciates with a clarified yet still harsh delivery that sounds almost cathartic. Almost. This is still far from the nearly jovial sounding strains of Lifelover, although coming from entirely different places, and yet this can certainly appeal to fans of both bands simply due to the mood alone. Retrograde is akin to the relief of facing impending oblivion, rather than slowly going mad seeking its grip and merciful release. It’s heavy, undoubtedly, but the heft somehow doesn’t permeate much further than its top layers.
“Shutter” rips through with a very energetic start that quickly shifts into cleaner guitars, and main riffs which consist of forceful power chords, beginning a back and forth habit of shifting between stronger, deeper rhythms that have a rock vibe and more weighty doom. Herr’s Danzig-esque bluesy drawl is something that roughly fits into the slower breakdowns that actually might work better with a strictly growled delivery, and it sounds peculiar when he grunts his Ooohs! and Owws! among the slippery grooves. The inclusion of The Stooges “I Wanna’ Be Your Dog” wasn’t entirely necessary either, even though they do a decent job with it, but “Under Saturn Retrograde Part I” explores both more rock elements and a refreshing black metal blast section that fits the livelier atmosphere effectively. They’re at their best when bursting at the seams with more adamant tempos, so this departure isn’t poorly conceived or executed, but it’s difficult to keep attention during songs like the uneventful “Under Saturn Retrograde Part II” and its lilting opening acoustics and somewhat nondescript harmonic section.
Forgotten Tomb hasn’t failed in creating a solid album, as “You Can’t Kill What Is Already Dead” is quite a nice standout that begins the conclusion of the record in sturdy form, and when taken as a whole this is not a hacked and slashed effort. But the profound sturm and drang of Songs To Leave and Springtime Depression was much more tense and dramatic than their current direction, resulting in a less captivating listen than their early/mid-aughties powerhouses. Worth a try, but not essential.