It is easy to describe something as having a horror aesthetic but not often enough is that description dived into with any real sense of critical depth. Horror, after all, is a wide berth and its span its substantial enough to make even a somewhat specific designation still be imprecise, vague, and unhelpful for any serious taxonomic work. Ossuarium’s most recent record certainly feels like a horror novel, some strange concatenation of rotting tombs and immortal stone creeping with beings of distended flesh and preternatural evil intent. But this is not necessarily a new thing for the world of extreme metal, especially of the underground death/black/doom variety where Ossuarium live.
A key to approaching them is their death-doom aesthetic, leaning substantially more on the former than the latter. It is less that these songs hang together like doom metal tracks (they don’t) but more that a Sabbathian or perhaps Saint Vitus-sense of pacing is kept even when the riffs themselves are diving into the realms of cavernous and brutal death metal. The riffs are most often tremolo picked but the chords they outline move slow; the riffs are chromatic but low enough in register that they don’t feel particularly like black metal but more the wing of primitive death metal that would inspire those early Norwegian groups; the synths and piano that add a creepy corpulent atmosphere do not suffocate or lead the way they would in doom metal but instead act as a ghastly pall over the rotting proceedings.
The tracks do not do much to distinguish themselves from one another, but nor do they feel a great need to. Ossuarium are veterans; they are aware that death metal at its best produces albums that are akin to great horror collections like Clive Barker’s Books of Blood or M. R. James’ Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, deliberately shaded to function more as facets of the same hideous and gruesome gem than to be wholly distinct affairs. The image Ossuarium choose to pursue for this aesthetic unification is a title, Living Tomb, and an image, a darkened drawing of the decaying stones of some ancient resting place. Their name, fittingly, is a type of resting place for the bones of the dead. The bareness of these things, which make clear the intended focus on death but offer little in the way of elaboration, pair well with the darkened mystery of these songs, which (per track “Corrosive Hallucinations”) exist less to make clear that terrors they contain than to make emotionally present and intellectually obscure.
Ossuarium also demonstrate a proof-of-concept regarding production quality in death metal. The record is not a lo-fi fuzzed out affair with indistinguishable lines; the two guitars are separated as clearly from each other as they are from the drums and the bass is its own clear and distinct animal. Vocals are the only area where, between growl and slight reverb, they become a sickly bestial wash; but this is death metal, and vocals are only ever a sonic noise texture anyway. But despite this keen production, it is not a slick and overly digitized affair. Instead, it is like a dream pop album turned wicked and evil, songs lingering in the fog of strange synths buried in the mix and the mild reverb draped over the guitars, a mastering which makes the keening wail of leads on any instrument something strangled and weak beneath the oppressive massive of the mid-paced, dirge-like riffs. The best point of comparison would be Bell Witch, who have made a career of these kinds of mixing decisions, albeit with Ossuarium maintaining a power to their rhythms and riffs beneath these weak and febrile leads where Bell Witch would instead leave their fragility bare and unadorned for heightened doomy effect.
The melodic structures of Living Tomb skew toward classic heavy metal, harmonized leads in minor thirds and neo-classical flourishes and all. It is simply delivered lower, slower, heavier. It is a wicked and mournful album; it is not unlike being beaten and dragged slowly backward, beyond, into some dark wood, hurled over the rotting steps of some decaying manor, where at last your ragdoll body comes to rest limp and wet beside a broken piano where a creature, too too tall and too-long face obscured by a rotting and stained white veil, begins with distended many-jointed fingers, in crooked tones, to play.
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.