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Since enlisting an entire new line-up in 2014 it doesn’t come as much of a surprise to see long-suffering Italian dark metal combo Opera IX go the route of re-recording past material as an introduction to its current membership. The unimaginatively titled ‘Back to Sepulcro’ is a stopgap compilation to hold over the fans until the arrival of an actual new album. The compilation comprises of re-recordings of four lengthy classic tracks, complete with new arrangements and orchestrations, and two exclusive brand new songs. It is the first release on Italian death/black specialist label imprint Dusktone Records, and the precursor to a proposed new album.

‘Back to Sepulcro’ is the recording debut of new frontwoman Abigail Dianaria, which marks the first time since 2000 that Opera IX has been fronted by a female singer, it also serves as an introduction to drummer Massimo Atomare, keyboardist Alessandro Muscio, and bass guitarist Scùrs. Only guitarist Ossian D’Ambrosio remains of the original line-up. The song selection, while generally representative of the Opera IX oeuvre, could have been so much more than it ends up being. As such ‘Back to Sepulcro’ is only partly successful. Considering the band’s complete personnel overhaul a year prior the two new tracks sound the most convincing that Opera IX has sounded in a long time. The addition of frontwoman Abigail Dianaria seems to have lit a fire under D’Ambrosio. It remains yet to be seen whether the presence of Dianaria will be enough to give Opera IX a second lease on life.

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The compilation blunders in its choices of what songs to give the re-recording treatment, and its selective blindness to Opera IX’ various eras. ‘Back to Sepulcro’ omits the demo phase of Opera IX entirely. Rhymes About Dying Stones, and Born in the Grave (from the ‘Demo ‘92’ tape, and the 1993 ‘The Triumph Of the Death’ EP, respectively) would have fitted the retrospective perfectly. Sepulcro originally appeared on the band’s 1995 debut ‘The Call Of the Wood’, The Oak originally appeared on Opera IX’s second album ‘Sacro Culto’ (1998) and Act 1: the First Seal was part of ‘The Black Opera’ (2000). Even though Act III: Carnal Delight in the Vortex Of Evil, and Act IV:  Congressus Cum Daemone are the superior songs of that album. Maleventum originally appeared on the 2002 album of the same name, which was significant for being the first Opera IX since the defection of Raffaella Rivarolo. The re-recording of the Cadaveria era material begs the question why no songs from 2004’s ‘Anphisbena’ and 2012’s ‘Strix – Maledictae in Aeternum’, when the band was fronted by Marco De Rosa, were considered for a similar makeover during the session.

Dianaria is a worthy successor to Cadaveria

The Oak is played much faster all around (especially during the first verse and choruses), omits the war sounds and forsakes much its waltzing tempo. The new arrangement effectively changes the entire flow and mood of the song. The original put greater emphasis on atmosphere than on actual speed. The new arrangement makes it sound as if Opera IX desperately wants to imitate a typical second wave Scandinavian black metal band. Dianaria for the most part remains true to Rivarolo’s vocal lines, but isn’t quite as fluent in transitioning between the various styles her predecessor employed. Act 1: the First Seal is true to its original incarnation, and actually benefits from the more organic drum – and bass guitar production. For an hitherto undiscernible reason Dianaria adopts a French inflection during the mantra-like chorus of Maleventum. Rivarolo herself was never able to hide her Mediterranean inflection, and as such Dianaria makes a spectacular debut with one of Italy’s oldest pagan/dark metal bands.

Consacration resembles ‘The Black Opera’ era most closely, while The Cross goes farther back to the ‘The Call Of the Wood’ album in terms of atmosphere. Of the two The Cross is the most potent as it reinstates the brooding atmosphere that characterized this band’s strongest material. Unimaginative artwork has been the bane of post-Cadaveria Opera IX, and ‘Back to Sepulcro’ at least attempts to infuse some of the graven mystique back in the visual aspect of the band. While not radically different from other bands in the genre, it plays up the occult/wiccan aspect that the band missed during the Marco De Rosa triptych of records. If Opera IX manages to combine the opulent gloomy atmosphere of The Cross with the potent songcraft of Consacration then they just might be able to capture the songwriting majesty of the seminal ‘Sacro Culto’ again.

Opera IX3 2014

‘Back to Sepulcro’ was recorded at Occultum Studios and Authoma Studios with Ossian D’Ambrosio and Federico Pennazzato handling the production. The production is much earthier and heavier than of the band’s prior records. While functional the production tends to be uneven on fronts. The rhythm section tends to be very dominant, and overpowering, often leaving the vocals and guitars to struggle for space. What the band has won in crunch it seems to have lost in overall clarity and definition. For what it intends to convey the production is more than adequate, but it can’t hold a candle to the glossy (if not sterile and stereotypically Scandinavian) production of ‘The Black Opera’. The artwork was based upon a photograph by Abigail Dianaria, and it is fitting with general direction of the compilation and Opera IX’ new song material.

After 15 years in relative obscurity Opera IX might just rise to power again…

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Author:

Wouter Roemers Wouter Roemers is a self-professed elitist, music critic, and death metal purist from Belgium. Known for his outspokenness and frank opinions on all things metal, bands and industry alike. Proprietor of Least Worst Option where he spends inordinate amount of time analyzing records three people care about.