Fas -- Ite, Maledicti, In Ignem Aeternum is the second album in Deathspell Omega's metaphysical trilogy concerning God, Satan, and the human relationship with and between the two seemingly opposing forces. In fact, one member of this group, which remains shrouded in as much mystery as the band can consciously muster, is the founder of the Norma Evangelium Diaboli satanic black metal scene in Poitiers, France. In the 21st century, the deep underground of French black metal is making its way onto the shelves of shops on the other side of the Atlantic and is garnering fans like wildfire. On the one hand, DO's earlier records were musically rooted in classic Nordic black metal. Before the indescribably -- nearly unbearably -- intense Kenose, the first recording the band issued stateside, DO had already issued albums as early as 1998 and appeared on a number of split LPs, singles, and compilations. Kenose, about 35 minutes long, contained only three tracks. Its overblown power and menace made fans of American black metal enthusiasts and the word spread. Then came 2006's Si Momentum Requires, Circumspice, the beginning of this trilogy. The band changed its sound considerably -- along with moments of buzzing black metal were long interludes filled with strange key and time signatures, keyboards and choral chants that made their sound much more experimental and spaced out, darker somehow, and even more sinister than anything they'd done previously. Post-rock heads took notice of the band, too, since a certain and considerable element of that sound had found its way into DO's mix.
Released in 2007, Fas -- Ite, Maledicti, In Ignem Aeternum subverts expectations once more. While it does contain moody, drawn-out passages that rely on silence, cryptic sound effects, and moody minor-key guitar angles, it also contains an aggression not heard from the band since before Kenose, harking back to its earliest recordings. There is great experimentation here, but it is tempered with all-out assault. The drummer (there are no credits on the sleeve, in keeping with the underground credibility this band works hard at cultivating and protecting) doesn't play mere blastbeats when things are at their sickest, such as on the ten-plus-minute "The Shrine of Mad Laughter" -- he just blasts, filling every single space with thunderous, frenetic fills and double bass drum wallops. He doesn't stop. Likewise, the guitars are a buzzing whir of noise and hellacious volume. Of course, the words are all but indecipherable -- so there is a 20-page booklet that supposedly offers them (more on this in a moment) -- growled in seemingly maniacal onomatopoeia. But elements of space do open up in the proceedings -- which can sometimes resemble math rock, so there is some accumulation of Burzum, Xasthur, and Darkthrone wrapped up with Isis. A third of the way through the aforementioned cut, which is nearly quiet with displaced, echo-laden female chorus vocals that emanate from the deep and never quite make it to the surface, it explodes even more insanely a second time. Add to this the positively bleak soundscape the band creates on tracks such as the bookend pieces of the set, "Obombration." These pieces creep and rumble, offering subsonic, unidentifiable sounds, minimally bowed guitars that clang with some edge-up extrapolation of combined minor keys. There's plenty of drama on these tracks and on the album's hinge track, "The Repellent Scars of Abandon & Election," where plodding, nearly symphonic metal meets doom and the swell of unholy hell-raising black metal. Production has a lot to do with it, as guitar solos can be heard but never in the foreground. It sounds like the whole thing was recorded -- BIG AND LOUD -- in some cavernous locale.
Lyrically, Deathspell Omega are something else again. Since there are no credits, listeners are led to believe that the vocalist -- or someone in the band -- writes the group's words. French culture being what it is, rooted in ancient Roman Catholicism, it seems only natural that a black metal band obsessed with Satanism would have a field day with blasphemy. But not like this. This isn't the stuff of shock at all -- though it is shocking because of its intellectual weight. The lyrics to these songs read an awful lot like the writings of the late French writer, bibliophile, pornographer, economist, and philosopher Georges Bataille. (Only in France could one have an avowed, unapologetic pornographer as the head of the national library.) These words could have been directly appropriated from his works such as Inner Experience, Theory of Religion, or The Solar Anus. Further evidence is the skeleton silhouette in the heart of the black sun on the interior of the package and adorning each page of the booklet. Does it matter? Yes, and no. It does in that it proves the sheer intellectual prowess of a band that could take such deliberately considered texts -- which argue for atheism, by the way -- and use them for the purpose of explaining the Devil not as God's mystical antithesis, but as a pure nihilistic humanist construct that is synthesis. It also offers a very concrete view of the "real" theory of Satanism as practiced in Europe. Add to this the inventive, progressive (not as in prog, but as in sophisticated), experimental musicality and production employed by DO and you have a band worth considering by anyone who is interested in extreme or difficult music. The French black metal scene may have its roots in Nordic rock lore, but it is increasingly coming up with its own hybrid that is a wild sinister animal all its own in the early 21st century, whether it be Blut Aus Nord, or Deathspell Omega, or any one of a dozen other bands. French black metal is some of the most exciting stuff in the genre, and Fas -- Ite, Maledicti, In Ignem Aeternum is Deathspell Omega's masterpiece thus far.