RETRO TUESDAYS: Cenotaph – Riding Our Black Oceans (1994)

What sets Cenotaph’s second album apart from many obscure melodic death metal albums from it’s era isn’t necessarily that it came from Mexico, or for it’s relation to The Chasm, but rather it’s progressive ambling structures that posited a different direction for melodic death post-‘With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness’. ‘Riding Our Black Oceans’ was more or less a new band as Daniel Corchado left to form The Chasm not long after Cenotaph had released ‘The Gloomy Reflections of Our Hidden Sorrows’. Julio Viterbo of Shub-Niggurath joined on guitars for this album and the next until leaving to join Corchado in his band. His contributions with Oscar Clorio (now of Denial) helped create a Cenotaph that was forward-thinking and willing to take risks. The only slightly weak link on the record is the somewhat inexperienced experimentation of Edgardo González’ vocals, which I don’t think he really nailed until the next full-length ‘Epic Rites’.

The same way Eucharist couldn’t quite nail down early At The Gates on ‘A Velvet Creation’ nor was Cenotaph fully composed, or perhaps even intending to do more than riff on the disjointed and brutal dynamics of Swedish innovation. The result is something closer to early Hypocrisy in abrupt bursts of death metal but they were still trying their hand at the melodic elements. The line between ‘Red in the Sky is Ours’ and ‘Riding Our Black Oceans’ isn’t direct, though, and a nice mediator would be Sarcasm‘s often overlooked ‘A Touch of the Burning Red Sunset’ were it’s melodies more reductive of Dissection influence. However you suss out the influence and it’s space in history this was an unexpected and brilliant album that almost seemed unintentionally as good as it was. In fact the new vocalist for the band almost takes certain parts of this album off the rails as he brings both abject insanity to songs like “Infinitum Valet” while also occasionally dipping into bad gothic caterwauling.

I surely have a taste for the obscurities when it comes to ‘old school’ material after years of trying to avoid grinding the greats into the dust and this second Cenotaph album sort of fits in between my love for the first Unanimated album and a decades-ingrained worship of the Swedish bands that influenced it’s style. In many ways ‘Riding Our Black Oceans’ is a far more emotionally resonant and free-spirited death metal album compared to the composed rigidity of ‘With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness’ and it’s unpredictability likely comes from both progressive intentions, more relaxed songwriting collaboration and imitation alike. It doesn’t all come together on every track the same way it does on powerful songs like “Soul Profundis” and “Severance” but there is a charm to the unpredictably forward-moving motion of the album as a whole.

The entire Cenotaph catalog is necessary listening for death metal fans, and especially for those seeking proof of the reach of early Scandinavian melodeath tendrils beyond. The two records that would follow this one have equal strengths and weaknesses but only ‘Epic Rites’ comes close to this one’s ambitious vision, perhaps because of Viterbo‘s strong playing and ear for the flow of riffs as you’d see him add similar life to The Chasm soon after. I consider this one of the better melodic death metal albums ever recorded not only because of it’s unique approach to the style, but for the hardened edge that it carries over instead of relying on the pronounced saccharine aspects of the sub-genre. It is a melodic death metal album for and by old school death metal purists first and foremost.


Artist Cenotaph
Type Album
Released July 1994
BUY/LISTEN on Chaos Records Bandcamp! (2014 Remaster)  Cenotaph on Metal-Archives

Dreams consume me. 4.5/5.0


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