ABYSMAL GRIEF – Funeral Cult of Personality (2021)REVIEW

With the seal now broken on this sixth book of hymns from Genoa, Italy-based doom metal quartet Abysmal Grief we crack open familiar preludium in warning of phantasm and occult mania, a reveal of those most cursed and swollen with pan-Christian liturgical rot. The point to hammer into skull herein is that the ball-peen tipped smack of ‘Funeral Cult of Personality‘ is itself a slight return, a grotesque mutation beyond, and a heightened sensory experience in tandem revelation. Whatever knowing congress gathers in recognition of these deeds of evil will read this swinging cacophony by ear and muse upon it, a ritual to loose their most sinister blasphemic desires. Thee unindoctrinated will find a restless keyboard-driven churn of distinctly yet individually idiosyncratic Italian doom metal.

Formed in Genoa circa 1996 and active without any too-serious interruption ever since, Abysmal Grief are a not-so traditional doom metal band who’ve always been able to adapt in order to realize their ideation of Italian doom metal’s claw of Catholic-shocking, grave-robbing horror. Roster changes, such as original drummer Lord of Fog exiting to play in Spite Extreme Wing, have seen the band members pick up multiple instruments and shuffle their own ranks accordingly to ensure their vision is realized. Since I’d written a truly awful (but positive) review of their fifth album (‘Blasphema Secta‘, 2018) a few years back I figure it only makes sense to scrounge through Abysmal Grief‘s discography with a wider-angled lens to get the right archival scent this time around.

The product of roughly a decade’s worth of demos, a split with Tony Tears, and a well-loved debut EP on I Hate Records circa 2006 the build up toward Abysmal Grief‘s self-titled debut (‘Abysmal Grief‘, 2007) had underground doom heads paying attention but it wasn’t exactly the signature sound we know today; Their debut had a sort of deep cut Peaceville three goth surrealism to it which preceded the Abysmal Grief we know today, which had more-or-less been sussed out on their second album (‘Misfortune‘ 2009) with its cover speaking to classic Paul Chain and the record itself stretching the limits of early Saint Vitus in a similar, yet specifically Italian doom metal way. Two key traits should stick in mind then and now: Heavy use of pipe/church organ-adjacent keyboards in harmony with raw traditional doom metal guitar work and vocals delivered with a uniquely menacing tone. In hindsight of this era of the band ‘Feretri‘ (2013) is probably the best introduction to their sound by way of somewhat cleaner production values and ‘Strange Rites‘ (2015) was the album to make “official” this signature necro-doom metal sound. ‘Blasphema Secta’ took a slightly different direction with vocalist/keyboardist Labes C. Necrothytus growling and rasping his way through what was their heaviest or, perhaps most extreme record to date. They’ve not continued down this same extreme metal adjacent path for this sixth album.

This should naturally suggest that ‘Funeral Cult of Personality’ is most similar to the 2009-2015 necro-doomed archives of the sect, their rectory stomping brand of doom metal reinforced here by clear but certainly not overproduced sound design. By incorporating a few spots of violin, chorale, and plenty of subtler layers of keyboards beyond their signature leaden pipe-organ creep we see just a few small shades of what’d been expanded within ‘Blasphema Secta’ a few years back. Necrothytus‘ vocals still contain all of the necessary menace you’d expect but no longer read as growls or rasps and this is perhaps for the best if we can consider familiarity of personae more important than varietal expression. As “Funeral Cult” came trotting in with its stately opening riff and theremin ooze aglow it certainly felt like a return to the charm of their earlier releases minus the lower fidelity of those first couple of releases. If you really take a magnifying lens to ‘Feretri’ and ‘Strange Rites’ specifically you’ll find a lot of the same (or similar) signature moves and tricks of the trade are employed in terms of the interaction between the guitars and keyboards. In this sense I didn’t find myself parsing through every riff, hanging on every line, etc. but rather just enjoying the haunted cathedral ride which Abysmal Grief are known for.

So, maybe I’m nuts or whatever but I absolutely hate when sampled speech lands on metal records 99.9% of the time and especially when it is taken from movies in languages I don’t understand. Much as I’d though they’d given the impression of speaking in tongues, the samples used on “Reign of Silence”, and to a lesser degree on “The Mysteries Below”, render these pieces small interruptions to an otherwise inspired full listen. It might add to the immersion for some folks but it has the opposite effect on me. Since it is a personal reaction it doesn’t count as a criticism on my end but, I definitely deleted “Reign of Silence” from my playlist after my first couple of runs through ‘Funeral Cult of Personality’. Not a great sign for longevity on my part and it affects the greater impression but the good outweighs the irritating in this case, starting with the jogging snarl of “The Mysteries Below” at its most interactive wherein the keyboard/guitar interplay reaches its first notable moment beyond the opener. “Idolatry of Bones” is a potential favorite on my part for its use of violin to accentuate the sway of the main riff; This is likewise the piece that’d delivered a notable range of vocal expression for my own taste, be it pulpit eruptions or poison gargling wrath this’d been the one to stand out. I only wish that particularly severe atmosphere was more prominent throughout the album and not largely reserved for the last half of the full listen, finding a mortifying peak on the 13+ minute dirge of “The Grim Arbiter”.

As a full listen there were a few too many small hiccups along the way for this record to have knocked a few of Abysmal Grief‘s past works out of my head but what they’ve done here on ‘Funeral Cult of Personality’ in terms of terror-inducing ambiance and anthemic songcraft ultimately reinforces what standouts these fellowes are within the uniquely rich plethora of Italian ‘traditional’ doom metal thought. Above all else you’ll walk away from this record having been charmed by its tuneful nature and the spooky gloom their use of horror soundscapes allows, it is memorable and so few doom metal records manage such unforgettable personality. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (75/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Funeral Cult of Personality
LABEL(S):Sun & Moon Records
RELEASE DATE:November 2nd, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Doom Metal

Help Support Grizzly Butts’ goals with a donation:

Please consider donating directly to site costs and project funding using PayPal.