Album Review: NOCTU Gelidae Mortis Imago
Funeral doom is, as one might expect, a gloriously slow-moving genre. There is a sort of stately elegance to the music. The best funeral doom bands imbue the listener with a sense of existential dread. The dungeon synth-infused magic of Noctu does this with aplomb. Their new album, Gelidae Mortis Imago is a devastating crawl through the murk. The record differentiates itself for both its heavy use of synthesizers and its very long songs which allow ideas to evolve and mutate in ways one might never have thought possible. However, this makes the record drag at times. Noctu is a band that understands the tropes of the genre and capitalize on them. Through that, Noctu have been able to craft their own path forward in the scene by building on those tropes.
The thing that really differentiates Noctu is their seamless integration of dungeon synth elements with funeral doom. In fact, one could make the argument that this is more a dungeon synth project than it is funeral doom. For each of the long-form songs there is a keyboard-based intro track that sort of sets the tone. Beyond that, the keys ride high in the mix of each track. They are a dominant driving force in the compositions. In some songs, like the half-hour long, "Isolato Da Un Mondo Senza Speranza," it almost can feel like the guitar was more of an afterthought. Meanwhile, the simmering magic of "Fitte Tenebre (Le Radici Dell' Inferno)" seems to be only compounded by the keyboards.
Beyond the dungeon synth component, of course, is a simple fact that the songs are all extremely long. This is par for the course in funeral doom, but in this case, the tracks can sometimes drag—especially given that there are already interludes for each song. There is an elegant lyricism to the music, but it needs to be given a chance to shine. Funeral doom is about having patience and reveling in the sheer heaviness of it all, but it also requires a sense of progression. Otherwise, the listener is just treading water. While Noctu clearly attempt to take steps to prevent that, at times it feels like they should be doing more. It's hard to keep someones attention for a 70-minute record. This makes the navel-gazing even more painful. That being said, the group largely redeem themselves with their vivid soundscapes and sense of brooding horror.
Noctu have created something really interesting by blending a variety of ideas and showing a clear understanding of the genre. While at times their execution is a bit lacking, it is still a record to get lost in. There is grandiose and almost Lovecraftian poetry behind Gelidae Mortis Imago. It is an approach that is weird and transcendent. It is a look into the void but a reminder that we must stay strong. The band's eagerness to bring dungeon synth elements into funeral doom makes them outliers from the pack. Though their songs at times feel like they lack direction, they also provide vivid soundscapes to explore. While this is a slightly flawed record, it is also one that shows a boatload of potential.