Sacrilegium – Anima Lucifera

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Band: Sacrilegium
Album: Anima Lucifera
Record label: Pagan Records
Release date: March 18th, 2016
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Fifteen years is a lifetime in metal. For a band to have been inactive for so long and then reform is a brave move, especially when the band in question left behind a small, obscure body of work that so perfectly encapsulated a time and place within black metal. Yet that is the situation Poland’s Sacrilegium are in, having reformed in 2015 and now releasing a new album, Anima Lucifera. Their previous album, 1996’s Wicher, is a prime example of mid-90s Polish black metal, [1] full of sweeping majesty and grand symphonic elements wrapped up in a raw production. However, on Anima Lucifera they have taken an entirely different path, placing the emphasis upon aggression, and producing an album that draws more overtly from second wave hostility than their previous sound. Whether it’s due to this considerable change, or the time away from metal rekindling the fires of their creative passion, Sacrilegium come across as a band revitalized, utterly confident in their own skin and – with the new direction they are heading in – with fine results.

Right from the introductory moments of ‘Preludium’, it is clear that this is not an album in thrall to the past; the expected synth-heavy bombast is absent, replaced instead by something more unsettling, soon joined by soaring guitars and rolling drums that lead in to ‘Angelus (Anima Lucifera)’. In this way, the tone of the album is set: the synths are still there, but more in a supporting role rather than coming to the fore as they did so often on Wicher. In stark contrast to their previous works, Anima Lucifera is an album where the guitars regularly take centre stage, be it through razor-sharp tremolo-picked leads and solos or more traditional black metal riffs. Yet remarkably, the band often manage to combine their unmistakable aggression with something grander. When the synths do take the lead, it is often during the build-ups and introductions to songs, or in the moments linking one track to another. It’s not until midway in ‘The Serpent Throne’ that they come to prominence during the actual body of a song, and when they do, they are handled tastefully, ensuring that they do not overpower the rest of the band – as is so often the case when symphonic elements are added to black metal. [2]

Anima Lucifera is an album with many elements, yet they are not always obvious; on initial listens, it is easy to be overwhelmed with just how aggressive and fast the majority of tracks are, at times verging upon blackened thrash. Repeated listens help to peel back the layers of aggression to reveal new and different aspects though, such as the way the quiet melody in the piano introduction to ‘…And Soul’ is picked up again by the guitars towards the end of the song; or the subtle melodies carried in the vicious riffs during ‘Desiderium Immortalis’. Evidence of Sacrilegium’s intelligence as songwriters is most clear here, in the way they make such skilled arrangements fit in so well with what often appears, on the face of it, to be an album built almost purely on aggression.

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If any complaint is to be levelled at Anima Lucifera, it is that, over the past fifteen years, there have been countless bands releasing records of this thrashy style, so clearly influenced by the more aggressive side of second wave black metal. It’s telling that the introductions, endings, and segues between songs are often the most unique elements. Sacrilegium’s songwriting skills ensure that the record is sure to appeal and be highly regarded by fans of this style, but it does not quite possess that spark of individuality to truly stand out. There is no shame in that, but it means that the band don’t bring much new to the table, as they take relatively routine elements and put them together in well-made, yet familiar ways.

If you’re looking for an exercise in traditional black metal aggression, you can do far worse, and as far as returns to the fold after such a long spell away go, Sacrilegium can be proud of the honesty and passion so clearly on display throughout. The Polish black metal scene has moved on a long way since the release of Wicher, [3] and it is heartening to see that Sacrilegium have too; hopefully it won’t be another 20 years until their next album!

Footnotes
1. Sacrilegium’s previous work is regarded as influential within the Polish black metal scene, though less so outside of it.
2. Contrast it with, for example, Dimmu Borgir‘s In Sorte Diaboli, where the keyboards were placed so dominantly in the mix and often took the lead; or many of Cradle Of Filth‘s albums from Midian onwards.
3. There’s a huge difference between the big names of the Polish scene of the mid-90s – such as early Behemoth and Graveland – to those of today, such as Mgła and Plaga.

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