Over the past decade or so, Germany’s Imperium Dekadenz has slowly but surely grown from somewhat humble (but still quality) origins into one of the best bands in the melodic, melancholy black metal field. Their stock rose considerably with 2010’s Procella Vadens, a sprawling, hugely atmospheric album that was successful as much because of its soft, extended acoustic passages as it was for its black metal. With 2013’s Meadows of Nostalgia, they again upped their game, focusing more on the blackened furor without losing sight of their wheelhouse: an enchanting and sorrowful expression achieved through a truly great melodic sensibility and a generally less-than-violent approach.
With each album, the band has shown improvement, and Dis Manibvs, their fifth, continues this trend. Always expertly crafted, as serene as it is cold, and frequently entrancing, it is the most balanced and consistently strong album of their career. There are even some new ideas being tossed into the mix, from the less obvious (subtle traces of “post/black” influences, or at least a reclamation of these atmospheric tendencies by the originating genre…) to the quite obvious (the slightly goofy but nonetheless fun folksy closer).
The band has also made strides in the department of album construction. Dis Manibvs is by no means a concept album (at least, I don’t think it is), but the flow is impeccable and there are clear cases where abutting tracks are related. The first such case is immediate, as an intro sets the stage for the captivating “Only Fragments of Light,” which in turn almost awakens into “Still I Rise.” These two songs not only show Imperium Dekadenz’ full range of tools – gorgeous tremolo passages, blasts that shuffle more than they demolish, occasional Drudkh-ish plods, vitriolic harsh vocals, and some great chants towards the end of the former – but they also show a great, subtle dynamic build. Two steps up, one step down, two more up, etc. It’s a sneaky approach, in strong contrast to the very deliberate dynamics of so much modern metal, and is easy to miss while the band is cramming wonderful sound after wonderful sound into your ears.
Not that Imperium Dekadenz is opposed to this deliberate approach, as the ensuing title track not only begins with a great respite after the emotionally hefty “Still I Rise,” but also features a very gradual, effective build. With such swells and retreats, it quickly becomes apparent that Dis Manibvs is constructed with far more peaks and valleys than was Meadows of Nostalgia, coming closer to a more refined, efficient version of Procella Vadens, despite being the longer album at over an hour.
Undoubtedly the greatest of these peaks, and one of the band’s finest moments to date, is “Volcano.” Everything is brought to a higher level here: The doubling of some absolutely luscious tremolo melodies under an upbeat tempo; the album’s most beautiful chanting vocals; the band’s continuing ability to turn a chord like no one else; and a bit of an Alcest vibe in some shimmery riffs during the track’s second act. It’s a testament to Imperium Dekadenz’ skills that they are not only able to continue delivering such tracks, but that they also recognize that each album needs at least one such bit of perfect escapism. (Meadows’ monstrous “Striga” and Procella’s “An Autumn Serenade” also quality, obviously.)
As with every Imperium Dekadenz album, Dis Manibvs has a couple of traits that could be used against it by the absolute pickiest of listeners. First, if you haven’t already gathered, this is not a band out to do anything new (at all), but with a sound/song combination this good, all should be forgiven. Second, a few less distinctive tracks could be viewed as filler by that picky crowd, but considering that they would be highlights on albums by most bands, that is really not the case. Plus, with Dis Manibvs, the band is closer than ever to delivering an album of nothing but monsters, they just aren’t quite there yet.
It’s a credit to their talents that even with some tracks clearly rising above the rest, each album qualifies for more than just a mild recommendation. Far from it, actually, as Dis Manibvs continues Imperium Dekadenz’ ascent to black metal royalty. It is cathartic in its anger, healing in its beauty, enveloping in its atmosphere, and most importantly, utterly majestic. Losing yourself completely in such music is more than just forgivable. It is expected.