By 2007, Deathspell Omega had already established themselves as trailblazers within the black metal genre. Releases like the monumental, iconoclastic, “Si Monumentum Requires, Circumspice” and the intricate, progressive, “Kenose” entrapped listeners in a complex web of sounds and symbolism. However, nothing could prepare audiences for “Fas - Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum”. An extremely dense album, “Fas…” contains virtually no repetition of passages, dramatic changes in tempo and violent mood swings. However, “Fas…” is far from a hodgepodge of unrelated riffs haphazardly thrown together. Like Hieronymus Bosch’s legendary paintings of hell, every piece of “Fas…” comes together to depict a powerful and horrifying realm.
The back cover of the album gives a hint of how to piece this difficult album together. The titles and track numbers of the songs are set up in a diamond. Tracks 2-5 make up the four corners of the diamond. In the center of the diamond is “Obombration” (tracks 1 and 6). While the word “obombration” is absent from both English and Latin dictionaries, it is clearly derived from “obumbrate”—to overshadow, cloud or hang over. The “Obombration” tracks are the foundation for the entire album. They are composed of an “om” chant—which in many traditions signifies the sound of existence. Layered atop the om is dissonant keys and chants. Each “Obombration” track sees these basic noises overthrown by dark, violent themes (a funeral march in the intro and harrowing brass fanfare in the outro)—each ending with the line “perinde ac cadaver”, meaning “…in the manner of a corpse”. Therein lies the theme of the album—the inevitable annihilation of all instances of meaningful existence.
These sounds remain in play throughout the album, becoming explicit between songs and during quieter passages; the inevitable annihilation of life and meaning hangs over the entire album. This is manifest in the lyrics, which give a first person account of a traveler’s journey through a hellish world, in which God is conflated with perdition, death and decay. The lyrics are matched by the album’s artwork. The interior of the booklet depicts a series of images in which healthy humans fall out of a black void, only to slowly decay in the black void’s presence.
Then, of course, there is the music. “Fas…” integrates a wide array of styles to create a horrific and complex world comparable to the hells of Bosch and Dante. The album is predominately composed of fast, chaotic passages that fuse crushing force of technical-death and the vicious sharpness of black metal. The end product sounds like knives slashing across the face of reality. The wild, disorienting blackened-death passages are contrasted with a number of heavy doom metal passages. Like being attacking by a giant beast, these passages exhibit a stunning and direct force. The heavy sections are contrasted by eerie avant garde jazz passages and a few sad, somber moments.
The musicianship is top notch throughout—tight, technical and clean—the best I’ve heard in black metal. However, unlike some technical bands, the visceral spirit is not drained from the music. On the contrary, the technicality only enhances the experience—the listener is confronted with a presence so intense, so overwhelming that it is beyond comprehension. This presence can be called a number of things: death, annihilation, nothingness, but the bottom line is that is simply beyond our comprehension and yet inevitable and real. Perhaps the greatest beauty of the album is that in spite of its dark theme, it is strangely energizing and empowering.
“Fas…” is an endlessly rewarding album. Each listen reveals new aspects and further layers in the mix. Each instrument, each lyric, each image comes together to depict a haunting world that is mysteriously and horrifically a part of our own. The album achieves perfection at all levels; aesthetically, conceptually and viscerally. In short, “Fas…” is high art.