Not long ago one of my esteemed colleagues (that would be His Royal Danhammer of House Obstkrieg, First of His Name) reviewed an album that he could honestly recognize the quality of, but just couldn’t find a way to like. Well what we’ve got here is kinda the opposite. Reverse Baptism by Benighted in Sodom is an album I quite enjoy, particularly as an eerie background, but I’m just not sure whether it’s really any good or not. (This would be your cue to keep reading and not just rely on that score, because it barely tells the story.)
Stationed in sunny Ft. Lauderdale, Benighted in Sodom is about the last thing you’d expect to come out of South Florida. This is extremely somber and slow blackened music from the mind of Matron Thorn, a former member of Germany’s Bethlehem. Since 2007, Thorn has crafted a whopping 11 full-lengths, 8 EPs, and 5 splits all under the Benighted in Sodom name. This insanely prolific output typically suggests one of two things: the kind of creative genius that can’t help but pour out original music at a staggering rate (think Frank Zappa from about ’66 to ’74), or someone squeezing the most juice out of a minimal amount of ideas. While I can’t speak for the rest of Thorn’s catalog, the case on Reverse Baptism is certainly the latter, but this will only be a problem based on your particular tastes.
To put things simply, Reverse Baptism is an atmospheric black metal album played with a funeral doom mentality. There is a strong urge to just call it a straight merging of the styles, but there really aren’t any identifiable doom riffs here, just that bleak funereal aura. This is especially true when comparing the album to the minimalism of bands such as Catacombs, who work heaviness through the careful employment of menacing repetition.
This repetition is the cornerstone of Reverse Baptism. Each of these seven songs – only two of which come in at under seven minutes – are comprised of only a few musical themes each, typically very simple minor key chord progressions. These themes are repeated in various ways – clean guitars, distorted guitars, tremolo riffs – and sometimes layered with blast beats, but the underlying slow melodies nearly always remain constant. The resulting songs typically grow gradually from what might be dubbed “blackened elevator music” into something similar to what An Autumn for Crippled Children pulls off—a softer, trebly delivery, even during the peaks. However, the vast majority of the album spends its time with the former, dwelling in haunting atmospherics rather than applying any real force.
The good and bad of Reverse Baptism thusly come from the same source: the repetition. Each haunting track is built on repetition, while the individual songs themselves are basically copies of each other. Opener “Sweetness Depraved” is constructed in largely the same manner as the closing title track, and although both are effective in their own right, by the time the latter comes around the entire affair has long sounded exactly the same. The only noticeable changes are in “Ocean II,” when the dissonances are eschewed for brighter tones, and the goth-tinged “Try to Forget Us.” The latter sounds like Benighted in Sodom doing suicide rock, with Thorn delivering his vocals in a croon quite similar to the clean vocals of Paul Kuhr (Novembers Doom).
Even these slight variations can’t help Reverse Baptism from being incredibly monotonous, but as stated at the beginning of this review, I enjoy this album. It’s almost inexplicable, as the vast majority of you will likely find it to be a monstrous bore. This is simplistic, atmospheric music being played simplistically and atmospherically, and it goes on as such for just under an hour. As a holistic album it will not hold your attention, but as a ghostly and eerie background it can be quite effective. As such it garners neither a true tip of the cap nor an outright wagging of the shame finger, but rather a nudge to give Benighted in Sodom an ear if any of the above enticed you.