Afraid of Destiny – Contra Omnes (Talheim Records)

Wednesday, 3rd May 2023
Rating: 8 / 10

There’s a particular beauty in darkness. When it comes to depressive black metal, Afsky released a glorious album earlier this year that is easily the high water mark for this particular style in 2023. When sifting through releases, we came across Italy’s Afraid of Destiny and their latest, Contra Omnes (Against Arms in English). Immediately drawn in by the phenomenal cover art, which seemingly depicts an ancient Roman city being devastated, with citizens desperately attempting to flee. What was found musically was befitting of such an image.

Afraid of Destiny formed in 2012 in Treviso by Adimere as a solo project, to which was fleshed out as a full five piece in 2019. With Contra Omnes being their fourth full-length, one would expect a band at the height of their powers at this point. Having gone back to check out S.I.G.H.S. from 2019, it’s evident that atmospheric and downtrodden shoegaze style black metal has been the focus. On Contra Omnes, that aura is showcased with a higher level of intricacy, while also providing more bite to even out their presentation.

Opening track “Abyss” begins with slow clean guitars, with layered distorted rhythms. Vocalist R.M. (replacing R.F. Sinister, who helmed the previous album) roars with a highly raspy tonality, which adds a contrast to the otherwise mournful soundscapes. The vocals are a little high in the mix at times, where they may be better served to be dialed back, to allow the incredibly detailed instrumentation not be overshadowed. Songs like “Anti” and “Breath” have a quicker tempo and a discernible urgency aiding in moving the album forward. The doldrums of depressive moods are consistent drivers throughout the album, with specific tracks being especially downtrodden. “Ramblin’” and “Hear Me” are marked examples; each overflowing with gorgeous guitar harmonies and highly emotive passages, further accentuated by brooding whispered spoken word pieces that fit the aura ever so wonderfully.

A keyboard dominant interlude “Lullaby” is reflective and serene, with dare we say an ounce of hopefulness. This leads into the final song and 15-minute long magnum opus “Requiem in Do Diesis Minore.” Opening with introspective orchestrations, the listener is brought along a winding road of sorrow that methodically builds with palpable tension. A clean sung section at the 4-½ minute mark was unexpected in the best of ways, providing an exquisite Novembre-like dreariness that fits the band’s sound so well that it’s a shame this wasn’t used more. Guitar tremolo passages whisk one away, before ending on tasteful orchestrations and searing leads.

If black metal filled with sadness and cloudy atmospheres is one’s cup of tea, then Afraid of Destiny should pique interest. Few acts project such a level of downright loneliness and despair quite like these Italians do. Now Contra Omnes isn’t perfect – the aforementioned issues with the vocal mix, along with a few bits that could be a tad tighter are notable. As a package, however, these may be attributed to personal preference and don’t affect the overall experience significantly. The majority is a splendid journey that we’ll be taking quite a few times, as additional nuances do pop up on repeated listens. A monumental release is in Afraid of Destiny’s future, and we’ll be there for it. Until then, let Contra Omnes soak in and envelope us in darkness.

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