Split by Thecondontion and CerementedRelease date: April 7, 2023
Label: I, Voidhanger Records
Splits are always a fun listening experience, but all the more so when the bands in question truly complement one another in terms of style, aesthetic approach, ideology (as long as it’s virtuous, of course) or another facet of their make-up binds them together in common purpose. While both bands certainly operate within the experimental hinterland of death and doom metal, the most instantly recognisable thing the two share is the absence of something and the doubling of another. Both Thecodontion and Ceremented are bands without guitar and who feature two bassists.
In their unusual approach, both bands attempt to push the envelope of death doom with their strict no-guitars mantra, delivering a crushing split release of equal bass-only reverence and subversion. The release is framed as a split album, but with a running time of under half an hour, I’m afraid just referencing it as a split feels more apt to me. While the bands complement one another with both genre and their atypical set-up, that is where the comparisons end, as Thecodontion and Ceremented are very different bands.
Thecodontion take up the first three songs: two originals in the form of ‘Trilobite’ and ‘Hallucigenia’ and a cover of ‘La Torre’. This trio of tracks signals a sharp turn of style for the Italians, who have revitalised their sound with liberal use of keyboards and synthesisers. These come courtesy of new member Stefano Allegretti, who readers of Echoes and Dust may recognise as the guitarist and keyboard player from celebrated psychedelic death metal band Bedsore.
The two original songs are tight constructions, featuring wailing leads reverberating of eons, conjuring an ethereal, very atmospheric death metal sound. Without bass the two songs would be a psyche-drenches all-vibes original sound that I’d dub dark death amplified ambience. It would be intriguing, but without any true distortion or cut and thrust could be somewhat lacking as an audio experience with purpose. However, the band helpfully feature two bass players who grind together with technical thick production providing an undercurrent that sweeps away the most argent disbeliever.
The third track – a cover of Italian singer-songwriter Franco Battiato’s ‘La Torre’ – is an incredible misstep, though. It doesn’t feel part of their ‘side’, let alone the release overall. While it reinterprets the song into a death metal manifestation, the clean singing – a first for the band and a success in so far as they are delivered incredibly adeptly – just does not work. The jovial nature of the rhythm of the piece completely undermines and breaks the spell Thecodontion have managed to weave over the listener thus far with their prehistoric marine arthropod inspired hex-laden dread.
It’s a bizarre choice to cover, whether Battiato has been a sincere source of inspiration or not, and one can only surmise that the band simply wanted to pay homage and have some fun. The inclusion reminds me of questionable choices on some Italian hip-hop artist’s albums, where they, too, choose to cover a ‘classic’ song in their own style, more often than not also to questionable effect. While it doesn’t fundamentally sabotage their contribution to the release, it does problematise their side and the cohesiveness of the record overall. The first two original songs are quality, and the heavy addition of synthesisers is intriguing, but I can’t help but want to spin Supercontinent (2020) or their split with Vessel of Iniquity (2021) immediately afterwards.
Returning for the first time since the 2019 split with Malefic Levitation, Ceremented choose a far more stripped-down approach to their death doom metal attack. With their three songs (plus short intro track) are still very much of the genre, they play a frenzied, intricate style juxtaposed with slower, sludgy sections, both of which rely solely on dual bass, vocals, and drums to confer their nauseating artistry, rather than the ‘symphonic’ elements Thecodontion have added to their repertoire. Disturbing bass feedback drenches the low death metal grunts that sound like the animalistic death throes of something devilish mortally injured in a mountaintop cave. Their tracks scry us into a voyage of horror, dripping as they do with primal fervour and where all hope is lost; annihilation beckons.
As previously alluded to, the split not only serves as a communion between two band who share a notable ‘quirk’ of instrumental make-up, and who operate in adjacent sub-classifications of death metal but also because Ceremented’s side also deals with the destructive forces of nature and the cataclysmic events will no doubt lead to our conscious species’ doom. Following the introductory track ‘Kontinuum’, the quartet launch into ‘Ultra Mystischizmatic Terrors’ and powerful salvo of magnetic, dissociative bass madness, with gurgling vocals that makes one imagine trying to run for one’s life from a natural disaster only to find you’re trying to sprint across a wretched bog already suffused with suffering and rot.
‘Timewarn Furnace’ sounds like a contrite Blood Incantation without guitars trying to star jump away from this wretched Earth, before they close out their contribution with the monstrous, hallucinogenic ‘Disease.Death.Kontrol. (Contravene of Death’s Hand)’, a near seven-minute cyclone of clanging, feral bass. Disgusting and delightful in equal measure – and something to be heard to be believed achievable.
The only unfortunate aspect to Ceremented’s contribution is that the mastering seems oddly uneven across the split, especially when the credits seem to allude that is has been a release mastered overall. The difference between the two sides really shouldn’t be so stark. Yes, both band’s approach to a death metal onslaught are very different in style; but why the volume is so markedly divergent is very ill-fated.
Completed with dark, rancorous, yet gorgeous cover art from Skadvaldur this is a very intriguing split of two death metal bands coming at the genre from an extremely different, original angle. If you’re a fan of Mitochondrion and/or Antediluvian in particular, then this release could well be for you. Just have your finger ready for a skip and to turn the volume up immediately afterwards.