Deathspell Omega - Si monvmentvm reqvires, circvmspice (2004)Release ID: 848
French black metal legends Deathspell Omega may not have clicked with me immediately upon first impressions but they’ve certainly made up for lost time, having gone on to become my favourite modern black metal band for many years now. Admittedly, those first impressions were based on 2010’s extremely dissonant “Paracletus” album which is a hell of a lot to take in for the uninitiated old-school extreme metalhead. It wouldn’t take long for its wonders to open up to me though which saw my affections taking a drastically upward curve, particularly once I discovered Deathspell Omega’s unbelievable array of E.P.’s, many of which would soon sit amongst my black metal records of choice. With all of the talk about their brilliant avant-garde & dissonant material though, it's easy to forget that this band began as a more traditional black metal outfit who was still more than capable of competing with the big boys & their 2004 third full-length “Si monvmentvm reqvires, circvmspice” is a prime example of that.
Now, it’s probably worth noting that my first experiences with “Si monvmentvm reqvires, circvmspice” were taken a little out of context as I’d already flipped out over later & more ambitious works like “Kénôse”, “Veritas Diaboli Manet in Aeternum: Chaining the Katechon”, “Mass Grave Aesthetics” & “Fas – Ite, maledicti, in ignem aeternum”, all of which set an incredibly high benchmark. It’s interesting that I didn’t find myself struggling to connect with “Si monvmentvm reqvires, circvmspice” on the same level though, perhaps because the album takes a much more familiar route via a traditional black metal style that’s somewhat similar to Norwegian icons Immortal a lot of the time. Or maybe it’s that you can very easily see the roots of the band’s fully developed signature sound in this release which is still of an undeniably high quality. I’d suggest that it was probably a bit of both but there’s honestly nothing stopping you from appreciating this record as a solid black metal album in its own right because it’s exceptionally consistent in its delivery.
“Si monvmentvm reqvires, circvmspice” presents thirteen tracks that offer quite a bit of variety without ever deviating from the black metal template. It has to be said that its 77 minute duration is certainly overly ambitious though & I feel that it could have done with a fair bit of culling. In fact, there’s enough elite level material here to have created a genuinely classic 40-45 minute black metal release as the highlights are nothing short of superb. The production job sits well within the confines of the trademark sound Deathspell Omega have built for themselves over the years as it’s cripplingly dark & dense with the powerful drums & Clandestine Blaze/Stabat Mater mastermind & Fleshpress drummer Mikko Aspa’s croaky Abbath-style vocals being the protagonists. The musicianship on display is exceptional as always with former Hirilorn guitarist Hasjarl’s riffs already showing regular signs of the angular approach he’d take on later releases & my beloved blast-beats being performed with the utmost precision. Many of the tracks see wild changes in tempo taking place at various stages & there’s a case for saying that some of the material sounds a little pieced together but you’ll rarely see a moment of respite from the blasphemic atmosphere that pervades the album & this is only further enhanced by the use of religious chants & the sophisticated lyrics which Aspa delivers over the blackened chaos that surrounds him. There’s a supreme confidence in everything Mikko does that never fails to draw me in as he simply seems to know extreme metal music as well as anyone you’ll encounter.
So how does “Si monvmentvm reqvires, circvmspice” compare with Deathspell Omega’s more widely praised & inherently creative material then? Well it’s certainly not inferior in any way. In fact, I’d probably take it over their 2007 follow-up album “Fas – Ite, maledicti, in ignem aeternum” if pushed & it’d just sneak into my top five for Deathspell Omega’s back catalogue overall. The reason I’ve hesitated to reach for my more elite scores goes back to my comments on the length as I find it to be fairly excessive. I mean, what real purpose does closer “Malign Paradigm” serve for example? Is it a weak track? No, it’s actually pretty enjoyable when taken in isolation but its positioning at the end of the tracklisting sees it sounding a little out of place in terms of both style & production, not to mention the fact that it's clearly the least apealling of the thirteen tracks included. The tracklisting would have been much better off ending on the blasting masterpiece that is “Drink The Devil’s Blood” in my opinion. In fact, there are five tracks that I'd happily tag as being genuine black metal classics which is certainly impressive but when you’ve gone for thirteen tracks (none of which are interludes) then you’re always going to risk diluting the overall effect of your best material. Still… I don’t think Deathspell Omega are capable of producing anything that’s not both highly engaging & astoundingly professional so it’s very hard to be too critical. If you enjoy bands like Blut aus Nord, Aosoth & Abigor then chances are you’ll really dig “Si monvmentvm reqvires, circvmspice” too.
Whether it is the harsh, discordant and unpredictable nature of the band's sound or becoming embroiled in the media frenzy surrounding the alleged extreme political views of alleged members of a band, there's usually something lurking not too far away from the name Deathspell Omega to make the average listener's toes curl. The fact is that when it comes down to the bare bones of what they do (record music) they are exceptionally good at it.
I find their third full length to be a bit of a middling affair however. It does what it says on the tin most definitely but somehow the whole experience gets a bit lost on me. There's some really well thought out and solidly constructed structures in the thirteen tracks on offer here - First Prayer and Second Prayer in particular - that manage to build jeopardy and unease superbly. Alongside these however are a series of very similar, "smash 'n grab" tracks that only really stand out due to their notional punk influence. As entertaining as they are they do interrupt the overall flow of the record too much.
The album comes across as being undecided on what it wants to be. For me it works better in its less frantic and more mid-paced moments, weaving strong fibres and memorable patterns, allowing the talent of the songwriting to shine through. Whilst certainly not opposed to the more frenetic pace of the BM spectrum, for me it brings little in the way of benefit here and the "extras" such as the chanting and choral smatterings really enhance the offering far better.
With a bit of a trim and maybe less of a storm of ideas the album would almost certainly be attracting near to maximum stars but as it is I struggle to score it much above halfway in comparison.
Deathspell Omega is another name stay in the BM scene that I have heard over the years but nothing stuck out. This album is a horrible offender too me, very bland. When I think of Black Metal I think of a cold, dark void of an atmosphere that should suck me in and drown me with despair or other feeling of emptiness. This drowns me in boredom and apathy. I have recently heard of this bands controversies and have been trying to read up on reviews of the band and this album to possibly get another point of view of this album. I even read up on the satanic lyrics and prayers even come off campy and cheesy for me. Nothing in this album feels demonic, it feels too try hard.
This is not a horrible album either, nothing is so blatantly bad I need to turn off as I am listening to this again as I type but I can't find anything to pull out of this. This is background black metal if there was one, but not for atmosphere or driving music or anything. I listened to this once while waiting on an oil change and almost forgot I was even listening to anything. Like a musical score for a video game or movie where things are happening on screen that could use a soundtrack but nothing too compelling to forget what you're doing. This could be good sleeping music or reading music for me. It's doing really well as music to write to, but as Blessed Are The Dead Whiche Dye In The Lorde plays I am more interested in the spelling of 'dye' in the title. Why that choice? I also just noticed how 'whiche' is spelled. Apparently that's an obsolete version of which. Going for an 'old' feel for satanism? I don't think Satan is stuck in the last millennium, we have enough hell on earth now to pick up on.
To say something on the actual music itself, the vocals are fine. They sit in the background like everything else. It all feels toned down like they're trying to make it spooky but it comes off to me as too passive and uninteresting. The instrumentation does not feel too wild for I've heard others refer to this as avant-garde, which I can believe that may be something DsO is going for.
There is an entire scholastic case study to find here within this album and I should make this a 5* for that but I can't. I don't have that much interest in it. I'm going to move on to something I can actually get lost in sonically instead of whatever they're actually trying to do with this. At this point I am listening to the title track and..... got nothing and walked away. Back on Jubilate Deo is where I feel they could've had something. This feels so unconventional and even more out of place. If they made an album around this at least it would be more memorable to me. I just can't finish this again, i'm going to go do something else now. Eh