NOVAE MILITIAE – Topheth (2020)REVIEW

The exalted objective of a black metal spurned anthroposophy, an alignment that’d divine some intellectually comprehensive spiritual world accessible beyond metaphysics and soothsayer’s rituals, often represents the aging lawless maverick ungraciously juxtaposed with the petulant-yet-adaptive youth of today. What semblance of lineage does attune serious followers’ aim to develop mental faculties for the sake of greater spiritual discovery by way of a proverbial mind palace (that which is independent of the sensory experience provided by typical spirituality) grows irregularly like a heap of ever-burning blasphemic trash. The smoke and too-hot flames south of civilization offer no cure or relief from the biting and buzzing flies that glom onto sacrificial corpses any longer — Any ferendae sententiae cast upon the vermin that form this heap via excommunication cannot negate their eggs and spawn, they will brood and hatch as long as men sacrifice to the ‘Gods’ and leave corpses behind upon death. A slow-dragging war drum, a chorus of heresy, and the ever-streaming fires fed by human garbage yet stoke the landscape of ‘Topheth‘, the second full-length album from this meticulous and mysterious orthodox black metal hierophant Novae Militiae.

Since dimensional rift of the millennium’s advance the electric crossing of the thousand wires connecting Scandinavian neo-‘third wave’ inhumanity and French Satanic liberté have produced the need for the now meaningless (to new generations) attribution of ‘orthodox’ black metal. Yet there remain countless artists who fundamentally represent and uphold those ideals and themes, those who balk the shifting black metal zeitgeist as the sub-genre floats between halfway convincing trend-gasms and lucky strokes of genius. For French artist Novae Militiae the fully grown classicism of orthodox Satanic black metal is not mere foil to drip from but a serious spirituality that is deeply entwined within the music they’d create. Though you will hear admiration for the works of (early) Deathspell Omega, Antaeus (and successor Aosoth) alongside patternation born from the heralds of Merrimack and Numinous the path forward is lit by personal ritual ambiance, tortured and empty spaces to wrestle the listener free of association and cleanse all but the most devout and patiently engaged from its full extent. In this sense ‘Topheth’, a traditional drum or a pile of burning sacrificial first sons, is an offering to realign with the left hand path and to refocus upon the negation of ‘God’ within the minds of men.

Formed in 2009 and (I will assume) with the involvement of at least two anonymous artists, Novae Militiae were not entirely typical Parisian black metal by the time they’d released their first EP (‘Affliction of the Divine‘, 2011) but the consistent comparisons to that of fast-rising Aosoth were at least partially warranted. The long wait in between releases was explained as a necessity of serious consideration, a perfectionist’s arc of performance quality and high atmospheric standards that paid off with ‘Gash’kalah‘ (2017) a considerable debut album that I’d reviewed with some positivity when it was released on vinyl via Sentient Ruin Laboratories (who will also release ‘Topheth’ on vinyl later in the year, or next) here in the United States. Though the core influences of their music, be it movement or artists considered, are quite obvious the centrifugal force of all accumulated actions represent an abyss that surges with its own crazed tint of red murderous defiance. This is perhaps why it was so easy to draw compare to MkM‘s works beyond the approach to cover artwork aesthetics and focus upon cataclysmic guitar arrangements atop unreal drum patterns, which expressed as a cruel machine across the nigh hour-long span of ‘Gash’kalah’. It was a suffocation, an experience that I’d personally equated with the solitary malevolence of ‘Cut Your Flesh and Worship Satan’ and in turn, enjoyed. ‘Topheth’ grants itself space, realism, broadening tonal variety and increasing spiritual fervor beyond the already extensive sins of the past.

Once again nearing the full hour mark with a well-considered opus in mind the emphasis on atmospheric presentation and deeper-involved guitar compositions are both self-evident upon perusing the innards of ‘Topheth’. ~4-5 minutes of ambient dissolution frame the end of each half of the experience wherein both sides showcase new and old ideas in harmony; Two tracks from the ‘Affliction of the Divine’ EP (“Affliction of the Divine”, “The End Shall Be Sent from Heaven”) are re-recorded here to great effect, bolstering their sound quality and this time around using what appear to be live drums based on the accuracy of the tempo compared to past releases. This is a major point of accessibility as the drum fidelity hitting above a basal functional standard compounds the feeling of orthodoxy and the exaggerated sensation of occult black metal at once.

For the artist an expression of black metal is ideal as music that intends to be “absolutely dark, mighty, glorious, religious, rooted in death, and must encourage the listener in his spiritual enlightenment.” and as such the task the listener must step into is parsing old familiar ideas amidst far more intense focus upon atmospheric transitions. This isn’t such a labor but living without the “work” of digging into their murkier past for momentous gem-like finds might’ve been a more engaging personal task. On the other hand, with clarity of expression comes lyrics that are more easily discernable if not often intensely obscured by the furious intensity of the artist. The conceptual focus upon Zoroastrianism and its intense theological separation of dark and light (evil and good) in opposition makes for attractive, spiritually anthropologic prose with symbolism that begs to be sifted through for what references, tenets and heroism it’d pass back and forth with the Greek mysteries and provide for Abrahamic religions. The world’s most ancient seed of religion and the destructive moralistic lawmaking resultant is the perfect antiquated and ever-powerful defiance to empower ‘Topheth’ yet I’m not sure the songs themselves separate into effectively different or even tangentially guided experiences that’ll suffice the average well-indoctrinated listener.

Ringing discordance, abysm conjuration, tribalistic and maniac-blasted majesty… All manner of orthodox black metal’s most performative traits are here along with some monastic Acherontas-esque punitive conjurations on certain pieces (“Towards the Sitra Achra”) yet just enough of the technique that’d differentiate each movement, or set of movements, is buried by the havoc. Appropriate as this is for the sub-genre and the spiritual discord it intends to sow I’d found myself flattened by the pummeling in excess of even ‘Gash’kalah’ and this’d lead to some tempering of my listening habits, clipping the experience off after 1-2 listens and struggling to meditate upon the key lessons each run granted. Depth is more than implied on the most key pieces, such as the morose crawl of “The Tables of Revelations” or the inspired resurfacing of “Faithfully Reduced to Ashes” yet the return of old thoughts feels like digression regardless of impact. If you’ve long been hypnotized by the spell of French black metal’s darkest inner voids this will either appear gloriously fashioned or rote in achievement and I’d say I’m landing in the middle of the fence, entirely impressed with the spatial conjuration of it all but unsure that the depth will ever fully peel open for me in any meaningful sense. The act of listening has yet to feel transformative to my person but it remains highly entertaining, weigh your own decisions based on which direction the needle ticks. A moderately high recommendation.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
Info:
ARTIST:NOVAE MILITIAE
TITLE:Topheth
TYPE:LP
LABEL(S):Goathorned Productions
RELEASE DATE:September 15th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Black Metal

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