'Fas - Ite, Maledicti, In Ignem Aeturnum' - Deathspell Omega (100/100)
The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but for all their rebellious sincerity, it is rare that a black metal band comes close to delivering a substantial counter-argument against Christianity and religious hegemony. The Satan-hailing blasphemy often comes off as a gimmick, and in none but the most inspired cases does a black metal band carry the intellectual weight to back up their ideological claims. And even if someone managed to intellectually transcend the adolescent 'kvlt' and form a Satanic treatise worthy of critique, crafting the art to uplift it is a whole other matter. From Hildegaard von Bingen to Arvo Pärt and everything between and before, Man has created works to honour God. It would seem that musicians in black metal would have the odds stacked against them. The 'Satanic panic' is decades since over, and an increasingly secular society has closed many people off to the prevailing religious thought, let alone a fringe spirituality like true Satanism.
Deathspell Omega's Fas - Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum came virtually out of nowhere in that regard. Although the liturgical spiel on their previous album Si Monvmentvm Requires, Circvmspice introduced an intellectually tangible inversion of Catholic mythology, it wasn't until this album that DSO were finally making music worthy of rivalling sacred traditions, and-- dare I say it-- rivalling the greatest sacred works of Bach or Handel through sheer force of their mirror-image dissonance. There's no clear origin from which to directly trace the shape and effect of this album; arguably besides The Ruins of Beverast, none other than Deathspell Omega have managed to effectively galvanize the black metal genre into something comparable with the world's greatest erudite art. Fas - Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum stands as black metal's greatest testament, and so it shall remain for the ever-foreseeable future.
The word 'dissonance' has lost its power when speaking of Deathspell Omega; objectively speaking, it is applicable to the album's brushfire chaos, but simply calling DSO's music 'dissonant' fails to mention how masterfully they harness that power. I've even seen this album's wonton passages referred to as 'noise'-- again, this only infers a surface-level appreciation of the music. The first "Obombration" (an invented term, by the way, derived for the latin root "to overshadow") conjures a jazz-accented control over its ugliness, building ominously atop its Orthodox soundscape. It's impossible not to feel startled by the instantaneous eruption that sparks "The Shrine of Mad Laughter". The guitars frantically buzz away, the drums seem to be in an amphetamine-induced fervour of their own making, and Aspa's vocals presence enough to fill the farthest corners of a cathedral if the occasion ever called for it. If you're a fresh listener to this album, it doesn't matter how attentive or open-minded you are; the music will flurry past your ears like a fucking sandstorm. There is not the capacity in humans to pick everything up at once. For my own experience of it, I was at once shocked-- even terrified-- but I felt myself hard-pressed to pick out memorable ideas at first. My grasp of the music was initially limited to what I understood to be movements in the music: haunted oases of churchyard atmosphere flung amidst indecipherably dense aggression. Like all but the most popular Western classical music, the brain takes a few repeated listens before you start to see how the pieces fit together.
Although I'd never presume to posit an appreciation for Fas as a measuring stick for good taste in black metal, I get the impression many of the people who dislike this album didn't get past the stage of initial confusion. This is quite understandable. Even as an ardent fan of this album for years, I find myself hesitant to return to it after going some time without listening to it. Unlike Si Monuvmentvm or its near-equally good 2010 successor Paracletus, there's no way to extract a single song from Fas to enjoy it on its own. Nor is there a way to half-attend to listen, lest the album buzz past with all but the broadest strokes having escaped you. Recently returning to listen to Fas, I am reminded how much melody and beauty (albeit subtle) is available to the listener upon deconstructing the music. Though you may not notice it when approaching the music as a whole, Hasjarl's guitarwork incorporates unlikely melodies and harmonies, and many of them are deceptively beautiful. Contrary to the word of its detractors, none of the dissonance on Fas is for its own sake. With parts like the jazz-from-hell intro to "A Chore for the Lost", I get the strange impression that Fas was originally beautiful music that was bastardized with a sense of nagging unease. There is a familiarity of classical music to DSO's craft here, but it is an aberrant mutation from that foundation at its closest. Closing the album with a faux-orchestra on the second "Obombration", that impression is compounded. It makes sense that a legitimately Satanic form of sacred music would mirror the form of its hegemonic equivalent, but achieve its ends through a very different set of means.
In an imposing sense, Fas - Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeturnum is a realization of a promise the early black metal pioneers made two decades prior to its release. If black metal is often too primitive to contest Christianity in any but a pigheaded rebellious sense, Deathspell Omega took the genre to its natural conclusion here. It's strange to think that nearly a decade has passed now since Fas was unveiled to the world; if it came out today, or a decade from now, it would still shock those who came upon it. That, in spite of the countless followers they've inspired in the years since. How many albums can be mentioned that retain their cutting-edge impression even months (let alone years) after they're available for the public's digestion? DSO created one of the boldest testaments in modern music of any genre with this album, and I think the rest of this feeble scene is still trying to catch up.