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Caronte : Codex Babalon (EP)

The latest EP from Caronte excels in its overall crafting of ritual atmosphere and dark occult secrets.

Almost hidden by the grinding noise of the things that flop and flounder in nighted chasms below, the horrible, indistinct sounds of the ritual drift up from the darkness. Amidst broken columns and crumbling statuary, remnants of a depraved and degenerate Saturnalian cult, the ceremony begins - a procession of shambling hooded figures, censers swinging, fill the corridors with a thick fug of incense that mingles with the dank smell of slick and sweating stone. Their voices chant in unison, but the words are lost – a dreadful invocation to the nameless chthonic deity that wallows in the deeps, where black water laps against broken stairways.

Caronte is the Italian name for Charon - the ferryman of the dead who, in classical mythology, carried the souls of the departed across the river Styx and on into the underworld. It is appropriate. There is something decidedly dank and subterranean about the sound conjured by this Italian four-piece. 'Codex Babalon' is their fifth release, and follows their second full-length album - 'Church of Shamanic Goetia' - which appeared in 2014. The brand of occult Stoner-Doom that Caronte summon on this three-track EP is familiar in many of its core elements - the heavily down-tuned groove, the smeared out sonic profile of the thick and smoky guitar tone, the plangent vocals that ride high over the murk - and inevitably recalls the genre heavyweights from whom they undoubtedly draw inspiration (somewhere between Electric Wizard and 'Soma'-era Windhand is a reasonable approximation). Nevertheless, they do bring a sufficiently distinctive arcane atmosphere to this record which enables them to transcend their influences to some extent, and manage to make this record quite an unusual, rewarding, and oddly uncomfortable, listen.

Part of this is down to the extraordinarily claustrophobic soundscape that the band has achieved. Oceans of reverb saturate these songs, plunging everything into a realm of chthonic darkness, where the true shapes of things are hard to determine, and horrible noises grunt and clamour in the depths. The riffs are grainy and rough-hewn, with a thick, dark distortion that grinds like the noise of shapeless monstrosities lumbering through the foul ruins of some waterlogged catacomb. At times it feels like drowning in tar. The unusual vocal delivery of Dorian Bones also stands out: the lazy drawl and bluesy phrasing recall a young Glenn Danzig, and his work on the record lends a swampy, delta vibe to the already fetid tone. There is depth in the use of vocals too: the strange, deep chanting that breaks forth at various points throughout these three songs is usually buried in the mix where, growling and murmuring amongst the record’s already impressive bottom end, it creates an unsettling, ritualistic feel that rarely lets up. When it does - during the breakdowns that occur in all three of these songs - this element (and the listener) is given a rare opportunity to breathe; it’s a little like being provided with a brief glimpse of unspeakable subterranean rites before the green clouds of foul miasma roll back in to obscure the horror. These shifts of tempo also introduce some welcome dynamic range to the record which otherwise varies from fairly slow (though always with a lumbering sense of forward momentum) to (in 'Rites of High Theurge') a relatively brisk mid-pace roll.

If one were determined to be critical, it could be objected that individual riffs and melodies are rarely memorable enough for any of these songs to stand out as instant classics. But it is in the overall crafting of atmosphere that Caronte have excelled - 'Codex Babalon' is a howl from the underworld suffused with ritual, decay and the heavy tread of impending doom, the perfect soundtrack to your next subterranean summoning.

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Reviewer's rating: 7/10


Tracklist :
1. Invocation To Paimon
2. Elixir Rubeus
3. Rites Of High Theurgy

Duration : Approx. 28 minutes

Visit the Caronte bandpage.

Reviewed on 2016-10-31 by Tom Williams
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