CLAVICVLA, “Sepulchral Blessing”

I must’ve heard some dark stuff in my time, because this, the sophomore release by Italy’s CLAVICVLA, is being touted as evil on wax (“unyieldingly evil,” in fact, according to Cyclic Law, who, along with Sentient Ruin, have dared to unleash it upon us), and yet I’m somehow underwhelmed by it.

As with last year’s Sermons, those involved compel the listener to experience Sepulchral Blessings “in total darkness and at maximum volume possible.”  Only this way, they say, will the music “dismantle your mind and will.” Now, I live with a six-year-old and a two-year-old, so not only are my mind and will dismantled daily, but time to turn out the lights and blast black ambient until the walls shake is at a premium (“Funeral for a Friend” spooked my daughter when I was playing Goodbye Yellow Brick Road last weekend, and that was in broad daylight). So before I dive deeper, let it be noted I have not performed that part of the desired ritual.

Whether that is the problem or not, I obviously can’t be sure. My initial thoughts were that Sepulchral Blessing was not even as dark as its predecessor.  Creator Ittiel has largely dispensed with the black metal vocal stylings that drifted through Sermons, instead choosing to manipulate them here and there into Chip King-esque howls, or bury them under layers of tomb dust so thick they’re confined to a mumble, swished into the air only rarely as if by the flick of a ghostly cowl. As such, Sepulchral Blessing relies rather heavily on atmosphere alone, and it can’t quite compensate.

Ittiel says his creative process is aided by his openness to acausal phenomena, which means his music “[falls] where it [is] supposed to go.” There is definitely a ritualistic aura to his work – one can certainly imagine a pitch dark room and a ring of fusty candles being employed during its inception – but what the listener can do with the volume up and the lights down is open to interpretation. My recommendation is to dispense with the baggage altogether and take the ride on your own terms. Like this, Sepulchral Blessing is not at all a bad album. Claustrophobic, grimy, cold and fetid, it certainly ticks all the boxes, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome. Unlike some for whom exhausting length and bludgeoning repetition a successful ritual make, Ittiel keeps his soundtracks firmly in the 6-8 minute mark, meaning the ideas and images come relatively thick and fast.  The bass, as deep and ominous as the finest Sunn O))), carries right through like icy breath on the back of your neck, with a variety of taps, shrieks and groans playing out around it.

Unlike, say, the last Common Eider, King Eider album, which presented genuine attempts by the artists to summon psychic entities, and which used far less obvious creative techniques to make music at least as chilling as this, Sepulchral Blessing‘s Satanic trappings can ring a little hollow. It also doesn’t help that Ittiel’s champions neglect to acknowledge luminaries like Clay Ruby, whose Burial Hex comes from a markedly similar standpoint with very little of the accompanying bluster and a great deal more dread.  Call it black metal, call it horror electronics, or call it black ambient – call it whatever you damn well please, but the idea that Sepulchral Blessing could take on something like Initiations, for example, and come out intact, is not even worth considering.