The Italian label/musical collective ATMF (that’s Aeternitas Tenebrarum Musicae Fundamentum, if you’re nasty) might be putting out some of the most criminally underappreciated (mostly) black metal in today’s metal underground. The average trench-digging metalhead is probably more likely to be up on the goings-on of the Zeitgeister collective than ATMF, and yet, boasting interconnected artists such as Absentia Lunae, Locus Mortis, Arcana Coelestia, Tronus Abyss, Janvs, and of course Urna–plus other related bands such as Hiems and the much-missed Spite Extreme Wing–the label’s low profile is, to put it bluntly, a big fat bummer.
“Why don’t more people like what I like?” grumbling aside, the black/funeral doom group Urna most certainly deserves wider attention not only because its new album, Mors Principium Est, is pretty great, but also because it engages with black/doom on almost entirely different terms than any other band. That is, Urna’s take on smashing up black metal and doom doesn’t consist merely of rearranging components from depressive black metal and funeral doom, which is the typical modus operandi of such miserablists as Nortt, Elysian Blaze, Forgotten Tomb, Silencer, Abyssal Sorrow, and so forth.
Of course, none of this is to suggest that Urna’s music feels like doing a keg-stand on a rainbow–”Urna” means ‘urn,’ after all–but there’s a much clearer engagement with a wider sensory palette. And, crucially, Urna’s deeper excursions into black/doom are suffused with a pinging, futuristic ambience. Thus, Mors Principium Est is less for wrist-slitting, and more for watching your planet devoured by a sun gone supernova as you sail through the clotted ebony vacuum of space on one of the last remaining escape pods. Still pretty damn heavy stuff, but external instead of internal, dig?
This gaping maw of alluring, space-age black/doom is a perfect companion piece to the debut album from Progenie Terrestre Pura, released earlier this year. Chances are this is no coincidence, given that Eon, primary instrumentalist for PTP, took over bass guitar duties for Urna with this album. And, much like PTP’s U.M.A., Mors Principium Est’s best quality is the way in which the band has created an utterly gorgeous pool of sound for the listener to swim around in. Urna’s use of effects-heavy, Hearts of Space-styled ambience is less in the foreground than with PTP, but the ultimate result is much the same. Urna merges deep, rumbling vocals, methodical, quasi-industrial percussion (sometimes reminiscent of Godflesh), and slow moving but lovely guitar leads. In so doing, the band occasionally calls to mind Esoteric, but without the spiteful fervor of those English greats.
The downside of Urna’s chosen approach to their genre is that, well, the album is almost completely built for total sensory immersion. As such, the album doesn’t work all that well on the level of individually distinguishable or notable songs. The slow outro to “Octo Sunt Grados Ad Càpere Fine Cycli Magni” is perhaps even more downcast than the rest of the album, and the opening minutes of “137 = 73 + 64” sees Urna at its very best: fusing the spacious, existential rage of funeral doom progenitors Thergothon and Skepticism with the stately, keen melodic sense of early Anathema and Katatonia. That collision is then wrapped in a futuristic bundle and kicked straight into some nearby disturbance in the space-time continuum.
So, as impeccably crafted as Mors Principium Est is, one’s enjoyment of it will be almost entirely determined by how often one wants to indulge in its particular mood. Still, given its unique approach, and the sheer depths of its sound, this is one pool whose terrifying mirror I can see myself coming back to again and again.
Dive in and float on.