The Ossuary - Southern Funeral - (8.5/10)
Published on April 1, 2019
The Ossuary may not be the most conspicuous of bands, but they certainly made a very strong start back in 2017 and are doing the right thing to step into wider recognition now. Debut album Post Mortem Blues arrived fully-formed, melding classic doom metal and traditional rock with an upbeat sense of freedom, and Southern Funeral simply hones in on those strengths to reinforce the Italians’ original message. You’ll see a great many heavy/doom groups peddling classic material this year, but you won’t hear many more pleasing than The Ossuary. This is another distinctive and loveable album.
Quite what makes the style so sunny when all around are piling on the gloom is open for debate, though the brightness clearly marks out Southern Funeral from comparable neo-doomsters like Orchid and Witchcraft. The thrust of most songs comes from retro fuzz and a swaggering bass presence that positions Dario De Falco as the anchor on the doomy side of things, while the tempos and riffing tend towards jaunty, matched by irrepressible vocals that belie often dark subject material. However, like on the debut, The Ossuary decide that a couple of tracks need to remain as po-faced and atmospheric as possible; these can be easily identified by scouring the tracklisting for greater song lengths. In essence, the niche that has been carved out here is the inversion of most doom groups – make the up-tempo songs the bulk of the record, then intersperse them with slower cuts to maintain interest and benefit from the contrast.
Having found a darn good formula with Post Mortem Blues, The Ossuary don’t bother to alter too much. The shorter songs still play out at about four or five minutes apiece, while two crawlers can be found doing the rounds at closer to eight. The exact kind of funeral specified by the title seems a little indistinct, but “Walk into Sepulchral Haze” preludes the album with organ and consonant, rollicking riffs drive the meat of the experience. The whole thing is awash with ‘70s coolness, bass powering the riffs as if guitar amps just haven’t been made strong enough, a host of psychedelic clean sounds flowing through the verses and breakdowns of “Under the Spell” and “Sleep Demon”; all the while, the vocals remain soulful and forthright without ever resorting to nastiness. For those enamoured with the occult rock craze, the lyrics are sure to titillate, doing a nice line in graves and morbidity, including some picturesque reference points like the night hag in “Sleep Demon”.
What makes Southern Funeral click where other retro doom acts feel like a drag is the fullness and warmness of the sound they achieve, as well as the zing of unexpected speedier onslaughts. Never before has a song called “Belphegor” sounded so optimistic, skipping down the pathway like Little Red Riding Hood with her basket of cakes; Black Sabbath didn’t manage to sound so free playing “Fairies Wear Boots”, nor did they pack such a sunburst of a singalong chorus. The enthusiasm of the quartet is really something. Even super-serious closer “Shadow of Plague” suddenly bolts for freedom at the halfway point, Domenico Mele treating us to a burst of multi-coloured soloing before the whole piece refracts into progressive dream territory, hugging a steady groove while mellotron ghosts across the open space. The Ossuary do claim Captain Beyond as an influence in their press release, along with Wishbone Ash, both of which provide the nuance to the classic thrust.
A few moments cleave a little too closely to ‘70s rock simplicity to truly make their impact felt, though the stop-start riffs of “Eternal Pyre” certainly benefit from the knock of cowbell. Indeed, the percussion picks up the baton at steadier moments, Max Marzocca spicing up the rolling grooves of “Sleep Demon” and taking turns to play fills in the quieter moments with De Falco. When the pace drops, the pair tend to take charge, even if they can’t match the full surge of the band at a more energetic pace. The only time when Southern Funeral really benefits from slow pace is on the title track, when Stefano Fiore drops his rambunctious voice a notch to hold the listener in thrall, delivering the line “We are the sound of funeral” in an entirely believable manner, regardless of the fact that it flies in the face of the three preceding upbeat songs. “Southern Funeral” is certainly not the average track here, but it shows everything The Ossuary can do. Open your ears and let them do it to you.