Attic - Sanctimonious - (9.5/10)
Published on July 12, 2017
There’s a short version of this review that goes like this: King Diamond and Cradle of Filth can fucking eat it. The reason why those two well-respected bands need to get Sanctimonious into their cake-holes as soon as possible is because Attic have managed to do exactly what those bands have been doing for decades and, frankly, wiped the floor with almost everything they have released. That’s not to say that listeners will be tipping their copies of Abigail and The Eye into an incinerator any time soon, nor that CoF’s latest Hammer of the Witches was anything less than astonishingly vibrant, but more to emphasize the fact that Attic have accepted all of the worthy features from those two bands, addressed the problems with the style, and come up with something that need not be embarrassed to stand among the best in occult metal.
The influence from King Diamond and Mercyful Fate is extremely obvious, copying from the same blueprint of melodic riffing accompanied by plentiful sinuous leads, storytelling drama that arrives by way of a plethora of vocal gymnastics, and a dark, occult tone running through the whole thing. However, Attic are not direct imitators of the style forged by those bands in the 1980s, modernizing elements of the sound, such as the more forceful riffing that crosses over into thrash and black metal on several memorable occasions, the infrequent use of blastbeats, and rather more extensive song structures that bear some resemblance to the theatrics of Hell’s Human Remains. In those distinctions between the Germans and the Danish source, Cradle of Filth may well be the factor to fill the gaps, owing to the band’s more extreme sound, knottier songwriting, and also the last point on which Sanctimonious resoundingly succeeds – its religious concept.
As concept albums go, there are more examples of utter failure than of total success and the two aforementioned influences are renowned for dividing listeners on the strength of the topics chosen for storylines in particular albums. The cheesy horror of King Diamond’s ”Them” or the overwrought erotic satanic gore of Dusk…and Her Embrace are two examples that make Sanctimonious towering by comparison, even though the notion of evildoing and persecution in a convent might be nothing new. Notwithstanding that familiarity, Attic manage to twist the concept around the music rather than vice versa, leaving every single song with memorable features, including intelligently chosen choruses, and neither overdo the lyrical poetry nor yield to humdrum simplicity. Importantly, the narrative sacrifices little that might be sought in conventional songs, the pacing of the music proving exciting regardless of the story and only the brief “Scrupulosity” needing to include narration to bridge a gap between songs.
Another reason for the album’s success and also an adequate apology for the narration is the incredible performance of Meister Cagliostro, who was clearly possessed by the spirit of King Diamond from an early age and probably outmatches the great Dane in ability. He peels off the voices of various characters without significantly aping any particular speech rhythms or adopting a musically unsatisfactory style: much of his work is done in high register, wailing and shrieking with alarming power during “Penalized”, while his mid-range can be slightly thin and snarling, suiting the dark themes down to a tee, though his lyrics remain clear throughout. By his contribution, the story gains not only the requisite sense of drama but also an immediacy and visceral appeal that ensures the vicious conclusion hits with full force. For those afraid that Cagliostro might be too much to stomach, there are some slightly ridiculous vocals when in the very high registers, though these are thankfully few and are mediated by more measured moments, such as the calmer chorus of “Die Engelmacherin”.
If Sanctimonious were merely an album about a fantastic lead singer, it might still be difficult to get excited about, yet there is barely a complaint to be made about the remaining four members of the band. Good riffs are as abundant as horrible punishments in the convent, the two guitarists giving extra bite to “Penalized” and “Born From Sin”, not to mention their melodic mastery during “A Serpent in the Pulpit” and “The Hound of Heaven”. The rare times when black metal influences arrive are potent and well-chosen, those being the main riff of the opening title track and towards the denouement of “There Is No God”, when the genre’s associations with Satan and evil are certainly fitting. Leads are not highlighted to such a degree as in King Diamond’s recordings, though this is sensible given the extensive nature of some of the songs; nevertheless, the solos are nothing to be sniffed at and some of the melodies are excellent. As might be expected from such a busy and melodic listen, the rhythm players have less to do during Sanctimonious, although manage to keep the entire experience energetic and diverting despite the album running to more than an hour.
Such a listen, where the average song length totals around six minutes, would present an issue with tedium in many cases, though the clearest mark of Attic’s quality is that nothing becomes boring and there is little in the way of filler material besides the three short interludes; however, even these do little damage, being placed in moments of calm during the plot. “Die Engelmacherin” and “Dark Hosanna” are wisely positioned, the former ending the first ‘act’ with nostalgic melodies and a repeated refrain, while the latter enters acoustic territory to lament the imprisonment of the main character, forming a brief respite before the story’s intense conclusion. Listening to the album out of sequence is a rewarding experience too, recommendations going to the intricate interplay of guitars and vocals in “On Choir Stalls”, the bitter and twisted “Sanctimonious”, plus the simply furious “Penalized”, which is the most infectious song of the lot.
In the rational world, away from the superlative nature of much of this album, small complaints can be made about the relative plainness of “Sinless” and the weariness shown in “Born From Sin”, though these are minor blemishes to an otherwise immaculately conceived occult disciple. If originality is no issue and melodic metal is your greatest temptation, this may just be your album of the year.