BEGRÄBNIS – Izanaena (2020)REVIEW

No manner of idol, smiling statue or incense can cover up this ancient curse. You can still hear the screams of their medieval tortured flesh across the Hirose River, trailing from cursed Kadan to the ears of those restfully situated a Aoba castle. Was criminal punishment any more civil or gruesome during the late Sengoku period as it approached the Edo era? An shogun-enforced militaristic time where simple theft or unpaid taxes meant bodily mutilation that may ramp all the way up to boiling, burning, crucifying, and quartering alive for greater crimes. Up to seven thousand souls spanning nearly two hundred years, and three sites (since the constant smell and horrifying noise was a bit much for the castle’s adjacency) sit now as a crumbling shrine and accident prone intersection in this unassuming well of ancient death’s curse. Pardon the cliché thought but negative pooling energy is best released via 簡素, simplicity of arrangement be it cryptic and primitive art or neatly intentional cleanse of abominable dark expanse via growling funeral doom metal. Sendai, Japan-based extreme doom metal trio Begräbnis present themselves as cloaked and funereal torpor, an olden funeral doom metal tradition glinting with modern touches of very light industrial and atmospheric gloom yet their debut full-length ‘Izanaena‘ seeks no recompense or alleviation of negative energy, rather a slow eking propagation of deeper internalized darkness.

There are a thousand appropriate angles to consider this first full-length from the Japanese trio yet what makes the most sense to me is to first gather the actions that’d made it possible. We start in 2010 when a raw sludgy satanic death/stoner doom metal quartet named C’est La Guerre made a small wave with their ‘Satanic Doom Death‘ tape landing on French ultra-underground label Impious Desecration Records. Why there? Although the band were based out of Sendai, Japan one member was French, and I’ve no more confirmed information than that but, the style of the band was pretty compelling as a blend of ritualistic stoner doom metal, quick hits of primitive black metal, and strong death/doom metal grinds. C’est La Guerre would first change their name to Begräbnis in 2011 and then make a few key changes to their core line-up that same year. Trading in vocalist Fumika Souzawa, who is also in death metal band 猿轡, and in turn changed the style of the band almost immediately; They would soon find their current line-up sans drummer Naoki Sugano (Taste) as he’d left by the end of 2012. I won’t speak to the first few demos too directly (‘Neunundvierzig‘, 2013) because they are difficult to find via physical copies and none of it is truly compelling until their split with Estrangement in 2014. At this point we can make a few judgements and key observations about what this band intends to convey. First, the use of fairly cheap Celtic knot imagery and runic font must be a quiet nod to Thorr’s Hammer and the music itself gives similar nod via clear inspiration from Corrupted, whom are undeniably important to this notion of unique ambient/soundtrack horror draped atop slow and shambling-hard funeral doom, although their use of German song titles had lapsed at this point. We are still more-or-less in this realm today on the debut but, perhaps bearing a more refined and deliberate approach.

Most folks who’d recognize this band, and I am sure there are very few who would, know them from the ever cult GoatowaRex label and their ultra-limited ‘Eastern Ghost Story Vol. I‘ split from 2017; The track Begräbnis contributed therein showcased a more death metal attuned vocal style, electronic elements, likely programmed drums and a song primarily performed via two downtuned guitars. Cryptic, primitive, growling open its dark expanse this new skin for the trio was probably most clearly realized at that point and it was time for an album that could hone in on the strengths of that piece. ‘Izanaena’ is a righteous succession of those ideas, produced just enough to bear classic funeral doom “unproduced” sentiment yet clean enough to be effortlessly listenable. And when I say “classic funeral doom” production I mean a grimy tape circa the most primitive non-gothic/zero keyboard efforts of the mid-to-late 90’s including Rigor Sardonicus, Symphony of Grief, and maybe even some Evoken along the way. Keep in mind I’m referring to the atmosphere of the piece, the actual style of sludgy slow-doom riffing here isn’t necessarily related to death metal in the slightest; Imagine ‘Trip to Depressive Autumn’ without the clean vocals and with a drum machine. Of course this is an undeniably amateur and oddly stylized sound that will likely repulse funeral doom metal fans who focus primarily on popular modern releases with decent budgets. I won’t say that ‘Izanaena’ is naïve or intentionally primitive art but rather suggest that it doesn’t at all intend to be commercial or, particularly “deep” beyond its minimalist stylistic conceit.

Four pieces that vacillate between 8-12 minute lengths each represent their own considerable hill to climb, leaving little more than the night sky to take in once you’ve stumbled to each peak. Opener “因果てど愚弄す (Inverted Cross)” is well chosen for its strong sense of crawling movement, compressed vocal diction, and subtle melodic swing as it presses onward. The electronic drums and subtle industrial tip of the beat is equal parts unique and uninteresting on my part, much of my focus lands on the slow weave of the simple riff and the vocalists guttural hoark. Leads play an important part of this piece’s development yet they merely ring out without any grand sense of accomplishment or any complete melodic statement. “半月-ハニワリ- (Haniwari)” then proceeds to endanger the psyche with a daunting ten minute dirge and, for my own taste, the strengthened heart of the album’s experience. Sure, the riffs on “食葬 (Mortuary Cannibalism)” are just a bit stronger, more death/doom metal in spirit at least yet being completely immersed in the monotonous droning loss of “半月-ハニワリ- (Haniwari)” feels like it serves the most genuine spirit of Begräbnis past and present. This echoes the hypnotic spiritus of the ‘Neunundvierzig’ demo slightly but without any of the death metal bursts of the self-titled demo (‘Begräbnis‘, 2011). Finally we land upon perhaps the most challenging piece, depending who you are, “ニジガハラ (Nijigahara)” which feels as if it were more influenced by Bell Witch than anything else as it kicks off. By the three minute mark we’re still in the coughing pit of Begräbnis horror but I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that a post-doom/trip-hop edge was achieved in this piece and it wasn’t ultimately to my liking.

If sludgy and entirely minimalist do-it-yourself funeral doom with some original adornment isn’t a passion of yours, I’m not sure anything on ‘Izanaena’ is going to be for you. If you’re conscious of 90’s funeral doom and its boon of influence upon the early 2000’s much of what Begräbnis do with that sound may serve familiar vibes. The homebrewed, lo-fi, and experimental nature of the release bears this charming reference to the past (intentional or not) and wins me over likely more than most doom addicts. You’ll have to decide for yourself if this piece justifies some sentimental placement in your collection or if it might serve as trivia or, an inlet towards discovery of even more viable and impressive Japanese extreme music. For my own taste this release represents the spirit of many old and dead friends (er, bands) possessing and inhabiting a new entity, speaking in tongues and droning on a gloriously affecting set of dirging death music. It is the weirdest shit you’ll remember best in the long run, anyhow. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (70/100)

Rating: 7 out of 10.
TYPE:Digisleeve CD
LABEL(S):Weird Truth Productions
RELEASE DATE:October 28th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Weird Truth Store
GENRE(S):Funeral Death/Doom Metal,
Death/Doom Metal

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