The sheer number of metal albums out there just being produced today means that Standing Out is quite the challenge. Sure, talent, originality, market demand, networking… that all works, sometimes, but you also just might have to luck upon some combination of all of them. France’s Ars Moriendi has found a good combination of a few of those on Sepelitur Alleluia, their fourth. First, they do quite a respectable job of expressing their core sound, which is a combination of riffy black metal and moody, lead-driven dark metal. Second, because there’s a shortage of such a sound being done right, it ought to hit hungry ears quite nicely. Lastly – and this is the biggest point – because lone member Arsonist makes absolutely no attempt to edit the album in terms of either song length or ingredients, there’s just a touch of oddball personality hidden throughout this thing.
The song length trait is quite notable, as the five songs that make up the album range from just under 7 minutes to over 18, and Ars Moriendi has a tendency to pack each with both focused dynamics and intentional meandering. For example, opener “Sepeliture” gets to the blast beat black metal fairly quickly, but then drops it for riffier, rockier material just as fast, only to build in intensity ever-so-sneakily until the blasts have returned on top. It’s the kind of layering that occurs throughout Sepelitur Alleluia, and one of Arsonist’s best songwriting tools.
The passages that drift and meander, however, end up having a different effect. Closer “Fléau français” spends several minutes floating through softer material, sometimes with layers of sustained lead guitar sounding like haunted voices crying out for help, and sometimes with more swaggery riffs played softer, as if a member of a jam band is waiting for the full band to kick back into gear. It does eventually build back up to more of a metal attack, but nothing that feels like a full album climax. Rather, it leaves things on a largely unsettling tone, as if the comforting riffs and frequently serene passages earlier in the album were only a ruse.
As far as the ingredients go, the vast majority follow traditional metal instrumentation, and most of the additional flairs are things that metal fans are used to (choir vocals, keyboards, chanting, etc.). But during “Ecce Homo,” Arsonist decides to go way outside the normal rulebook, and it results in the album’s coolest song. After the track does some of the band’s usual switching between blasting passages and riffier drives, it drops. Then, at one ideally-timed moment during the track’s gradual rebuild, a horn section appears. When intertwined with the pinched guitar tones of the leads, it almost sounds like someone brought Thy Catafalque back down from space and threw them into an Ennio Morricone-scored spaghetti western. It’s a wickedly cool addition that is not only rather unique, but also perfectly entwined within the song.
Not all of Sepelitur Alleluia provides moments as cool as that one, but it’s all at least enjoyable and frequently fairly gripping. Still, it remains a bit of a niche listen, ideal mostly for those fans that already dig a melodic, eerie, slightly trippy take on darkened black metal. Just menacing enough, just fun enough, just weird enough.