THE FUNERAL ORCHESTRA – Negative Evocation Rites [Vinyl] (2020)REVIEW

Only the sensation of it rolls off the skin, a quick stream of stinging motion from shoulder to elbow as if the super-heated first drop of tar were a tickling drip of water before it turns to burning plastic shell. It will slough off all melting flesh before the nerves can spasm their response. Only seconds pass before the screaming starts, alternating with frantic coughs as the air thins due to the boiling Hell sloshed over this writhing and soon silenced corpse. Burning adhesive can only be rubbed into deeper pain and never off; All struggling turns to shock long before any organs are affected — A steaming, noxious mummification by scorching asphalt. Make walkway of victims, stepping stones and curses under breath for each claimed as the long road twists your heel upon this stinking, tar-blackened path. Golden faces peer blank beneath solid black robes, low slung instruments and tweed ties for a humble sect who’d worship Death, awaken void hunger, and defile the will of all men with their orchestra of shadowy priests. Nigh twenty years beyond their collective realization of droning doom and funereal ritual as burgeoning necessity in the world of extreme sonic subversion The Funeral Orchestra reconvene for their second official full-length a full seventeen years (almost to the day) beyond their first, the lauded and influential ‘Feeding the Abyss‘ (2003). ‘Negative Evocation Rites’ finds greater efficacy in minimalism, emphasizing tone and the torment of composition rather than the adorned obsidian lustre of the Mark I conclave. Death and the void speak for themselves, they do not interact, and serve only to provide destination for erasure of all affected.

If you were not conscious and attuned to the depths of extreme music back in the early 2000’s you might not understand why an album like ‘Feeding the Abyss’ was so important, or rather how it’d been a smart shockwave that opened up possibilities for many death/doom, drone, and even funeral doom metal artists to expand their vision to cross the line into divergent forms of sonic excess. Sure, Runemagick had already hinted at this with their masterfully inspired high-rate evolutionary steps but The Funeral Orchestra was a full step into extreme doom metal of its own magnitude. At the time I don’t think folks in Gothenburg could see past the mountain of shit-sucking pop-metal/melodeath groups that’d long obscured the more inventive evolution of death metal within the southern part of the country, and that first album was surely destined to be enthroned as an underground classic either way, it was far too dark and obscure even for the nearby Sunn o))) crowd — Though the tone of the album must’ve likewise been at least slightly influenced by pre-‘Pentastar’ Earth. Few would begin to recall heartily The Funeral Orchestra‘s severity until death/doom and funeral doom reached some greater station and treatment in populist circles, at least enough that folks began to appreciate the foresight of Nicklas Rudolfsson‘s work, a signature earth-shaking dread you can see threaded through Runemagick, Saltas, and Heavydeath since. Of course there are other musicians involved but all were intended to stay anonymous either way.

When revisiting the interim material from 2004-2014 we find mostly odds and ends, a split with the vastly under-praised Ocean Chief in 2010 was the last big event from the Mark I formation of The Funeral Orchestra until they’d regrouped as a trio around 2017. The suggestion is that to continue the musicians involved would have to surpass the statement of their debut and though I’d bet some of those attempts were just fine ‘Negative Evocation Rites’ does ring of something special, a new order of magnitude and deepest mind-flaying heaviness that can properly live up to the ruthless ravine cut by time’s erosion since. The question is, have you the salt and vigor left in mind and body to listen to music that subverts and brutalizes the senses? I’m not entirely sure that I was ready for the funereal fuzz-dirging wreckage of The Funeral Orchestra here in 2020, and this despite the band giving ample warning with freshly re-recorded Mark I compositions on ‘Apocalyptic Plague Ritual MMXX‘ back in March just a few weeks after Saltas‘ crushing subterranean debut ‘Mors Salis | Opus I‘. There was some real danger in the potential beating the mood and the psyche would take from these recordings, and I don’t suggest this with any irony, in times of very real torment these sorts of pieces can strip a person down to anxietous, panicked human mush. The release, festivals, and touring possibilities were delayed by a short while due to plague restrictions and presaged by ‘Negative Evocations‘ in early May, an ~35 minute single from the album with two extra unused pieces from those sessions, this allowed the mind to breathe and since the vinyl wouldn’t hit until July, the mind could prepare its armor.

As I said, it has been a long road paved by many screaming bodies yet now as we reach this next cave it receives us with open-mouthed eagerness, swallowing whole all traces of humanity and leaving the mind void of life’s chaotic terror. Unbeknownst to us, this is only for the sake of ‘Negative Evocation Rites’ writing a new history of terror upon our fresh tabula rasa, this is Death’s incantation to feed upon us and wring every bit of insipid indoctrination from our flesh, not just ego-death but a complete autopsy of the ‘self’, writhing and brutally hooked-open without anesthetic. In this sense ‘Negative Evocation Rites’ is truly extreme, not just for its mysterious nature, gloomy mood, or suggested entropic goals but it is extreme in that the music itself pushes and tests the limits of the user in a bold way. Too many extreme doom metal artists find ways to be pleasant, after all who will buy music that isn’t afraid of taxing, mutilating the mind of the listener? As it turns out, this is a mistake on the part of those unwilling to strike bold iron, because The Funeral Orchestra become indomitable mythic ordo for their willingness to slash and ebb beyond previously defined borders. This is exactly why ‘Negative Evocation Rites’ is meaningful continuation of this project, it seeks new boundaries to cross and greater abrasion to toy with.

Pools of sulphurous boil up from subterranean tubes, heated by the very core of the planet and each burst of fire serves as inspiration for the caustic distortion that feeds and flames the circular black hole of riff and ringing dread that characterizes this reinstated The Funeral Orchestra. It fills the senses with ritual and cauterizes the nerves to feeling, a numbness met with the urgent darkness of “Negative Evocations” crawl, a track we’d had preview of prior to release that features members of Chthonic Deity/Blood Incantation as the hellmouth’s chorale or as they’ve dubbed it, Chthonic Incantation Choir. Of course I live for this type of thing and have been following since the early Runemagick days as that interim lead to experimentation in Heavydeath and beyond so, some of the guitar effects and chord progressions are familiar in spirit but ‘Negative Evocation Rites’ offers bigger motions, perfected render, and the bleak death/doom spiritus of ‘Feeding the Abyss’ appropriately evolved unto impossibly dark times where mankind is threatened by blight beyond even medieval proportions. Two twelve minute dirges surround two eight minute pieces, forming two halves that push towards a new deepest locus as “Flesh Infiltrations” leaves its mark and the two-part “Negations” begins. I’d thought this would be some grand meditation upon death, that I would be initiated into this tightly hidden sect of gold-masked conjurer but it wasn’t long before I realized I was the sacrifice, that all was in service to further the depth of man’s ruination as each growling, monastic syllable boasts prose begging for extinction of all.

Of course I love this, and I’ve spent roughly two decades collecting and heralding everything related to Runemagick‘s descent upon the unwilling hordes. My bias is unshakable not out of stubbornness but because this level of quality and intuitively crafted doom extremism is still largely unmatched save a handful of intrepid Finns and various worldwide effectors. The suggestion on my part here is that ‘Negative Evocation Rites’ pushes some new, darkest buttons that brings this unhealthy feeling of dissonance to my flesh, making it dance upon my bones and feel some measure of quaking self-hatred; Wishing for the quieter torment of Death or whatever limbo, void or pure black damnation that will stop the raw curse-incensed shaking. The way that “Negations II” drops the noose into frame as it starts stuns me with every listen, less a grinding of teeth but a full chamber of life-draining collapse sliding as miasma from a cart already full of corpses. The return of The Funeral Orchestra is a perfectly worthy follow-up and a resuscitation with great reason — Although it is by nature an album that slowly makes its case, ‘Negative Evocation Rites’ deserves an emphatic high recommendation on my part.

High recommendation.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Negative Evocation Rites
TYPE:Full-length [12″ LP]
LABEL(S):Nuclear War Now! Productions
RELEASE DATE:July 15th, 2020
BUY/LISTEN/STREAM:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRES:Funeral Death/Doom Metal,
Death/Drone Metal

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