Black Vatican – Arcana Lament
Release Date: 18/01/2020
Running Time: 47:01
Review by Dark Juan
…As I continue to whip the poor wretch in front of me, the bands of pain across my back increase, iron hot and tightening across my shoulders, although the pain I am suffering must be nothing compared to the glistening red stripes of agony across her slim, trembling back. Her blood runs in rivulets down her back and stains her skirts a deep scarlet. Yet, still she does not cry out. This wretch, this WITCH, this doer of evil! Thankfully, the Most Holy Inquisition came across her in the commission of her crimes and all that remains is confession before we pass sentence and she goes to meet her dread maker in the bowels of the most awful hell, far from the eyes of the Lord my God, her saviour and saviour of all mankind. How I love him as I do his august work on this evildoer, this hellion! With renewed vigour from my faith in the Lord I swing my bullwhip and open up another vicious wound upon her soft flesh. The red of open slashes now has flecks of white bone showing through. Rib cage and spine are becoming gradually exposed. My Cardinal motions for me to cease my Holy ministrations upon the person of this servant of the Devil. He places his hand under the chin of the witch and raises her face to gaze into his. He speaks kindly to her.
“My child, repent of your sins and confess them and I promise you a quick and clean death and you can go forth to the forgiveness of the Lord our God and live eternally in Heaven. I beg you to confess and end your pain. Only the cleansed can go to the Lord.”
The witch spits blood flecked defiance straight into his face. Her dark, liquid eyes narrow and flash hatred and she whispers, hoarsely because of injury and pain as she replies, voice choked thick with agony and disgust.
“Never. I never acknowledged your God. Your prayers were never for the likes of me and my kin. You seek only domination and dominion over all. You crave new demesnes. Look at your wealth in the silks you wear, how well fed you are, how your skin is unmarked by pox. Yet you want more. You will not hear me scream even as I burn and I WILL NEVER DO YOUR BIDDING! I follow the Left Hand Path and I am a member of the congregation of the Black Vatican!”
Four hundred and thirty six words just to make a tenuous link to Black Vatican, an American two-piece hailing from Kansas City, whose latest offering I am currently listening to, entitled “Arcana Lament”. And a strange, ill-proportioned beast it is too. An arabesque with unsuited limbs. Beauty and perfection subtly distorted in ways that render you uneasy and afraid. Like an elegant, beautiful hand whose fingers are just that tiniest bit too long and thin, and the nails look rather sharper than normal. Black Vatican have taken Paradise Lost, Rotting Christ, Cradle Of Filth and KMFDM and early Ministry and performed gross, disgusting medical experiments upon them and fused them together in some horrific kind of gothic black metal industrial chimaera. This, as you might imagine, makes for an interesting listening experience as these are all fairly disparate influences at work. The song structures and lyrical content lean very much into the dark gothic wonderland that Dani Filth appears to inhabit but then suddenly a song will go cold and industrial and bleak. It’s surprising how well that sort of segue works even if Black Vatican relies on it a little too heavily. Equally so with the short, sharp, choral single note chants that appear on at least three songs. Still, everyone knows that Dark Juan is a sad old goff and this sort of thing is enough to worry West Yorkshire County Council because of the possibility of sex wee flooding. Again. I have to say I am really enjoying the album despite the fact that Black Vatican appear to have used a fucking Bontempi drum machine with the most appalling cymbal sounds and shitty drum tones ever. It sounds like a fucking toy monkey bashing cymbals together over a fat man hitting an upturned bucket with a drumstick composed of rats with rigor mortis. Painfully obviously sequenced does not even begin to describe how shit the drum machine is. Get an Alesis SR-16, chaps, and do it properly, please.
Vocalist Erik Ramos boasts a broad range of tones, from guttural belly rumbling through to a very engaging Dani Filth-esque howl which is regretfully sparsely employed considering this is what Erik excels at. Production wise, it’s ok – everything is clearly heard although everything can be somewhat smothered by keyboards and drums at times. There is a distinct lack of production finesse, however, and there are some unusual breaks in the arrangement of the music and the record clearly sounds like it has been recorded on a budget of 37p and a packet of fags. The guitar sound used by Cole Roberts varies wildly from Akercocke like lo-fi razorwire single string work through to full bore metal riffing with a sound not unlike the guitars on “Cruelty And The Beast” which fits the kind of cold atmosphere the record projects rather well.
I love anything gothic or industrial and to have something that is both is a real treat for me. Fans of gothic metal might find this a challenging listen because of the industrial sounds BV use – most goth metal is a warm and intimate experience closely in touch with the darker parts of your soul whereas BV operate out on the fringes. They are occupied with the darkness and the cold outside of you. The terror without rather than the horror within. Industrial fans will appreciate the cold and dispassionate feel of the record and might also enjoy the slower numbers. Stand out tracks on the record are ‘Morrigan’s Forest’ and ‘Vampiric Combat’. Special mention for unexpected comedy gold goes to ‘Witch Of Scarborough Fair’ which is a gothic rewrite of the notable Simon and Garfunkel classic. Listen, lads, if gothic doom metal gods My Dying Bride can fuck it up royally (their cover of Scarborough Fair is execrable) then you don’t stand a chance with it! Leave Simon and Garfunkel alone!
In conclusion – I totally get what Black Vatican are trying to achieve and applaud them mightily for it. I feel that they might have a problem by having a foot in the camp of both gothic metal and industrial. A judicious lean in one direction or the other may well pay dividends, because the middle ground they inhabit is a sparsely populated one indeed. Also, for the love of god buy a decent drum machine because the one you’ve got is shite! Niggles aside, I’m a fan and I’d love to see what Black Vatican could achieve with a decent recording budget.
The Patented Dark Juan Blood Splat Rating System has regrettably only ruined one pair of trousers with a modest amount of sex wee and awards Black Vatican 7/10 for a record that impresses with the scale of its thinking, but is let down by execution.
01. Loss, Greed and Necromancy
02. The Alchemist
03. The Vistas
04. Witch Of Scarborough Fair
05. Dreams Of Hecate
06. Morrigan’s Forest
07. Vampiric Combat
08. Again, The Vistas Again
09. Reincarnations Of Dreams
Erick Ramos – Vocals, Bass
Cole Roberts – Guitars
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