You never know beforehand what people are capable of, you have to wait, give it time, it’s time that rules, time is our gambling partner on the other side of the table and it holds all the cards of the deck in its hand, we have to guess the winning cards of life, our lives.” José Saramago, Blindness

Patience is no certain guarantee that you will bear witness of anything profound in the realm of atmospheric extreme metal, much less any doom metal specific elaborations. Yet patience is key for any sort of mind-altering immersion the realm potentially has on offer. Matching the sleeping heartbeat of funeral doom and, in the case of Lisbon-based quintet Sepulcros, the shift between cavernous atmospheric death metal and funeral doom necessitates conscious adaptation which directly echoes the skillful mind-body command of practiced meditation. Without this level of participation from the listener the scope and momentum of an album like ‘Vazio‘ cannot hope to impress with more than the sum of its audio/visual design. To sit and sink into its ominous yet not entirely destitute atmospheric framework requires a dispersal of the ‘self’ or, a release into what direction these Portuguese fellows ebb their debut album within. Not all atmospheric death/doom metal requires such intimacy, an act akin to putting an ear to the ground with the senses inflamed, and I say this as testament to the subtleties of Sepulcros‘ songcraft as well as a judgement leveled against it. It is worth acknowledging the great boons to physical and mental inertia that can be gleaned from the experience yet it will be up to the individual’s own composition of reactions that will determine whether ‘Vazio‘ sticks, or drones on past.

Although funeral doom and atmospheric death/doom each birthed as truly avant-garde music the exemplar forms we hear as latent influence in modern acts tend to derive from the stuff that brought riffs a ‘generation’ later, that is to say that one could love Unholy‘s ‘The Second Ring of Power‘ to death (as I do) yet statistically they are more likely to sound like Mournful Congregation in terms of presence and their momentum-based treatment of pacing which resembles traditional doom metal played at the wrong speed. In terms of composition and movement speed Sepulcros land with a balance in mind that is closest to that of Worship, Mindrot, and Tyranny‘s ‘Aeons in Tectonic Interment’. That is to suggest that there are extended periods of rest but the riffs that do launch tend to get to the point at such a pace that their phrasing isn’t entirely lost. A modern equivalent for this sense of movement is perhaps Fuoco Fatuo‘s ‘Backwater’ or Convocation‘s ‘Scars Across’. What characterizes ‘Vazio’ beyond these comparisons of timbre, movement, and sound design is ultimately their treatment of atmospheric sound design which seems to have been achieved largely through healthy use of studio effects. Atmosphere should be emphasized first as the greater current resume of the line-up consists of fairly well-regarded underground projects, each of them characterized by their atmospheric values: Viles Vitae (black metal), Abominamentum (funeral doom), Candura (black noise/drone) and of course three members belong to one of my favorite recent occult black/death metal bands Summon who’ve most recently blown me away with their ‘Helios’ EP. As often as I find the current Portuguese raw black metal scene enthralling, my ears perk up hardest whenever these out-of-the-blue death metal projects hail from their lands as they tend to bear some brilliant atmospheric value, Sepulcros included.

A collective fixation on dark atmospheric extreme metal is charming enough reason to put together a project, and no doubt Sepulcros have mastered the conjure of atmospheric death/doom metal in spirit on their debut yet determining what makes ‘Vazio’ anything special beyond its gorgeously curated artwork (Mariusz Lewandowski cover, View From the Coffin logo) and subterranean production values might leave folks with empty hands to start. Perspective is one thing to consider, if I were to suggest there were hints of atmospheric black metal in the lead guitar work alongside spurts of caverncore and/or 2000’s death/doom in the riffs the imagined result surely isn’t rote. Based on that description it might make sense to consider a band like Seattle’s Un, whom have a hint of post-black in their funeral death/doom metal sound and then suggest that Sepulcros generate a filthier, black/death metal influenced vision that lands nearby in spirit. In simpler terms the ‘hook’ here in terms of style is atmospheric death/doom from the occult black/death metal perspective, or how about just funeral death/doom for Sinmara fans? The major characteristic which separates this notion from an act like Grave Upheaval is lead guitar work which is directly inspired by funeral doom metal such as Mournful Congregation. It takes a bit of mental gymnastics to get there but they’ve got a great sound which conveys a miserable sense of existential dread and “emptiness” if you’ve the patience to sit back and let ’em do their thing.

Sandwiched between two brief intro/outro statements are four pieces averaging about eight minutes each, ‘Vazio’ is neatly divided between nigh equal parts Side A and a couple extra minutes for Side B. The title track eventually splays into a blackened death chasm sure to intrigue fans of Disembowelment influenced death/doom with plenty of blasted, cavernous sections. “Marcha Fúnebre” is the showpiece here and some justification for the emphasis upon lead guitars as a major agent of voice within the span of ‘Vazio’. It is a nagging, yearning dread that this song leads with as an intensifying roar keeps Sepulcros calmly remorseful despite extended sections of blasting black/death metal. This is where the album begins to stick for my own taste, not that Side A is largely formality but that the progression of mood throughout ‘Vazio’ is what ultimately calls my ear back for further investigation. “Magno Caos” emerges as a well-known pattern in funeral death/doom of the last decade, the long build to intensity gives a chance for some legitimate slow motion doom metal riffs before a couple minute burst of blasting death metal and a slow fade. Though this is in the spirit of some of my favorite bands, such as Ceremonium, the actual death metal portions of the record aren’t necessarily engaging beyond a wall of sound. It is also worth noting that the vocals are quite powerful in performance yet buried during moments that might’ve had more impact if they were less rescinded in level. Again this speaks to a modern atmospheric black/death metal sensibility rather than a classic death/doom metal format so, I don’t want to argue away the atmospheric design which characterizes Sepulcros. The final piece, “Hecatombe”, conveys the strongest bout of emotion here with its turbulent innards on display and brooding for the majority of the song until exploding as we near the eight minute mark. Subtle as it might seem in a sea of details this passionate and distraught final moment from the band went a long way towards convincing me the greater run of the whole record was worth repeating.

Death/doom metal appreciation is a time consuming and involved habit largely reserved for depressive folks who’ve some need for otherworldly procession to parse thoughts and rend catharses. With this sense of function in mind Sepulcros have delivered a functionally enthralling piece, largely void of truly monotonous elements without edging fully towards the high activity rates of, say, Lycus whom tend towards a constant mid-pace on more recent efforts. Keeping the slug slow gloom modulating with bursts of fiery, blasting death metal keeps each full listen feeling freshened by its own captivating corridors. Yes, the songs are fairly simple in structure under pure analysis but ‘in the moment’ they’ll twist and turn away from comfort quite often and make for an overall strong performance. For a debut ‘Vazio’ is exceptional and though its divergence from the usual atmospheric death/doom tropes is fairly light Sepulcros come out the other side of the cave with a valuable feat of atmospheric sound design. Is it memorable, though? It’ll be key that the listener connects with the ‘surprising’ moments on offer across the full listen, such as the burst into a blast around ~3:25 minutes into the title track. It may take several listens to sort out how effective those dynamics are for your taste. I’ve spend enough time with ‘Vazio’ that I’d found it entirely successful in this sense, and exemplar sub-genre entry, yet still not yet fully leaving a mark that demands to be remembered months or years later. A high recommendation nonetheless.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Transcending Obscurity Records
RELEASE DATE:March 12th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Atmospheric Death/Doom Metal,
Funeral Death/Doom Metal

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