BRETUS – Magharia (2021)REVIEW

Wild spires of stone shoot up into the air, barren and clearly defined, in the form (as its name implies) of a gigantic hand against the sky, and in the crevices and holes of this fearfully savage pyramid the houses of Pentedatilo are wedged, while darkness and terror brood over all the abyss around this, the strangest of human abodes.” Edward Lear, Journals of a Landscape Painter in Southern Calabria

A great bloody hand cradles this arcane place of unconscionable horror in its palm, five time-worn and seemingly zombified digits erected like spent fangs in a jaw, cracked open and up towards the sky. A famously cursed paese fantasma since the 17th century but settled by intrepid seventh century Greeks upon a precarious vantage point, Pentadattilo would long bear the burden of being settled too close to these ancient spears poking up from Hell. Infamously painted red via a somewhat imbalanced feud between wealthy yet indignant families, the Easter massacre of 1686 within this precarious town spared no children or elderly for the sake of one man’s murderous passion for a women he’d never have — The entire opposing family where shot with primitive rifles and hey, stabbed a few extra times to ensure there were no survivors. A horror so disturbing for the population it was said their blood-smeared handprints would be left to hang on the walls for centuries. Now wracked by the Earth’s shift and largely abandoned beyond tourist herding, the fate of this ancient roost rests as ruins, an auld obsession for centuries of warriors and travelers alike with little more than shifting tectonic places left to feed its cursed reputation. Italian traditional doom metal quartet Bretus probably have more harrowing lore in mind whilst pulling from the witching brew of haunted and historic ghostly legends from their country on this brilliant fifth full-length, ‘Magharia‘, but we are in the right lane. Now entirely in their element and having reached considerable stride via expanded heavy psychedelic rock influences, these Calabrian folks mystify all grey matter with fresh expressive mastery within, flexing a diabolically twisted and personality-rich showing of foundationally secure doom metal tradition.

Bretus have done heavy metal right in the most basic sense: They put in the work for nearly a full decade before their first official statement went to print. From there they have tweaked their sound, adjusted the line-up, and iterated upon a strong core concept but the dark soul of the band persists in its most classic fascination with 70’s heavy psychedelic rock, 80’s traditional doom metal, and the “tell don’t show” brand of classic horror where the impact comes from the mental horror of the haunt and the trauma of violence unseen. Back in 2019 I’d more or less described my take on their first three albums within a review of their fourth record ‘Aion Tetra‘ and those notes still hold up, the “breakthrough” was arguably ‘…From the Twilight Zone‘ (2017) and they’ve been on a roll since. The appeal of their style can be reduced if only for the sake of the traditional doom metal spirit that drives both the rhythm and riffing across all albums and one of my favorite doom vocalists Zagarus, formerly of Suum and also in Lunar Swamp, a recent stoner/doom side project from Bretus members. Any fellow who can invoke Scott Reagers and Bobby Liebling in tone and spirit but put his own expressive touch into phrasing is immediately in tune with my own ears as records like ‘Die Healing’ and ‘Day of Reckoning’ are visible under microscope within my blood. This isn’t all there is to the bands sound but it is a fantastic starting point as each album Bretus serves us is more deeply considered in both theme and construction, finding the heaviness of those mid-80’s doom metal classics but oozing of the warp upon the 70’s rock spiritus which visionary groups like Cathedral honed in on in the mid-90’s. Traditional doom metal can have a great vocalist and can feature incredible riffs in 2021, there are few options today where bands are capturing the old gods’ essence rather than simply canning it for sale, Bretus drip of that essence in perpetual font.

From the horrendous death toll of the plague-ridden and asylum-bound reaches of Poveglia Island (“Cursed Island”) to mysteriously prolific and ritualistic Bronze age Sardinian culture that’d seemingly vanished (“Nuraghe”) the greater thematic scope of ‘Magharia’ spins fantastic tales from urban legend and real historic haunts across Italy, places of profound tragedy and horrors seemingly all by the hand of human treachery. Rather than plainly stating the source of each song they’ve inserted keywords, allusions, and various shifts in perspective to convey detailed histories and legends while leaving the heavy lifting to the listener who is prone to figure through each subject. The intent is clearly more about adding a bit of a ghost story atmosphere to an album already crawling with its own dark aura than it is to provide scholarly review so, you’re still primarily showing up for a heavy psychedelic rock record heavily in tune with mid-80’s doom metal; The mind-bending nearly nine minute title track that ends the full listen makes sure you’ve gotten the major stylistic point but “Cursed Island” and “The Bridge of Damnation” had already given considerable hints along the way.

For my own taste the strength between halves is consistent across ‘Magharia’, Side A might initially seem more “classic doom metal” in movement yet the whole of the album more-or-less is save a few touches of the blues rock a la early Danzig and some additional melodic voicing, such as the flute break in opener “Celebration of Gloom”. “Nuraghe” has a kick of ‘VIIIth Coming’-era Cathedral in its movement, a certain rhythmic swing to it while still preserving the dank, mold-ridden feel of Bretus, “Headless Ghost” heaps on even more of this idiosyncratic stoner/doom feeling in its guitar work serving as an energizing highlight as we pass on to Side B. My favorite piece on the album is oddly enough “Sinful Nun” a song that does a fine job illustrating concisely a lot of the newer influences rising within their sound while keeping the rhythm guitars cranking out memorable circular movements. As a full listen ‘Magharia’ felt entirely organic and comfortably professional from the very first listen and only warmed as its rotten glow became more familiar. As an already familiar Bretus fan who’d found ‘Aion Tetra’ to be their finest work when stumbling upon it back in 2019, I see the bigger picture of what is different and what is steadfast within this new record and appreciate that they’ve gone darker and smarter with this one rather than trying simply for “more everything” as doom metal bands are often prone. Memorable, infinitely repeatable, and surely an essential for folks attuned to traditional doom metal this year. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Burning Coffin Records,
The Swamp Records,
Overdrive Records
RELEASE DATE:May 7th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Traditional Doom Metal,
Psychedelic Doom Metal,
Stoner/Doom Metal

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