Genève-based Rorcal have an extensive catalogue of furious and obscure metal that goes all the way back to 2007, with their debut EP, The Way We Are, The Way We Were, The Way We Will Be…. Throughout the years, they have carved a name for themselves in the metal community by pushing the boundaries of doom and black metal, releasing songs up to 70 minutes in length, and never making any compromise – be it on their artistic vision or the quality of their releases. Világvége, in particular, brought them to a wider audience, including myself. On March 25th, they’ll release Κρέων (Creon), their newest full-length, and, quite possibly, their masterpiece.
Κρέων is, in Greek mythology, the ruler of the city of Thebes; the four songs on this 50-minute album each expose the story of one character whose death is related to the king. This bleak concept seeps into the soul of the music and taints it permanently. From beginning to end, you’ll be assaulted by uncountable blast beats, tremolo-picked notes, and cathartic screams and growls. Don’t get me wrong, there is a good amount of variety in there, it’s just very subtle. A barely noticeable tempo alteration here, a double- or half-tempo feel on drums there, and ambient sections when the narrative calls for… There is no obvious extraneous influences or sounds in the music, but the interweaving of black, doom, death, progressive, and post-hardcore elements inside these long, intricate and skillfully constructed songs creates a diverse yet focused experience that is all about giving a tangible sense of being on the brink of apocalypse. In other words, it’s a pretty standard continuation of Rorcal’s legacy, and an admirable successor to their last full-length, Világvége. If you haven’t already, do yourself a favour and listen to all their previous releases, I think you’ll appreciate Κρέων that much more. Now that we’ve got the superficial covered, let’s dive in the abyssal story underneath.
It all begins with “Πολυνείκης” (Polynices), the nephew of Creon; his story is intertwined with his brother’s, Eteocles. After their father blinded himself and fled the city, having unknowingly killed his own father and married his mother – his name is Œdipus, by the way -, the two brothers agreed to rule Thebes in succession, and Eteocles went first. When it was his time to step down, he refused; Polynices then, mad with rage, decided to raise an army and assault the city. He ended up face to face with Eteocles, and they killed each other. Creon then had to take the throne, and decided to let Polynices’ body to rot, instead of gloriously burying him like his brother, because he had marched against the city. It was finally his sister, Antigone, who gave him a proper burial, but she was gaoled for it.
The text accompanying the image reads:
τὸν δʹἀθλίως θανόντα Πολυνείϰους νέϰυν ἀστοῖσί ϕασιν ἐϰϰεϰηρῦχθαι τὸ μὴ τάϕῳ ϰαλύψαι μηδὲ ϰωϰῦσαί τινα͵
All the pages in the liner notes bear a line from the Antigone play, by Sophocles. This one can be translated to “(Antigone, 26-8) Regarding the wretched corpse of Polynices, they say that it has been proclaimed by herald to the citizens not to bury it in a tomb or to lament him in any way.”
“Ἀντιγόνη” (Antigone) is the following song, and begins when the woman goes to Creon, telling him that she disobeys his law, which stated that none shall mourn the defunct Polynices, saying that she upholds God’s law over Man’s. For this she was locked in a tomb with only one day’s worth of food, until Creon, guided by a prophet, changes his mind and goes to release her, only to discover that she hung herself. Creon’s son and Antigone’s fiancé, Hæmon, threatens him, but finally stabs himself after the morbid discovery, and following her son’s death, the Queen Eurydice also ends up suiciding herself. This is a tragic ending as only the Ancient Greek dramaturges could make, but Rorcal’s unceasing barrage of aural horror embodies it rather perfectly.
τὴν μὲν ϰρεμαστὶν αὐχένος ϰατείδομεν, βρόχῳ μιτώδει σινδόνος ϰαθημμένην,
“(Antigone, 1221-2) We beheld her hanged by the neck, fastened by a noose of linen threads.”
Third in line is “Αἵμων” (Hæmon), son of Creon and Antigone’s betrothed. When he hears the king’s sentence for his lover, he attempts to reason him, but to no avail. The events ensue, and when Antigone is found dead, he tries to fight Creon, but finally turns the blade on himself. This is the song that has been singled out to promote the album, but it’s not particularly more radio-friendly, albeit being the shortest, at 11:22 of running time. The sludgy riffs, the uptempo 3/4-time blast beats and the earthy screams convey this sense of unimaginable loss; as the liner notes put it:
εἶθ’ ὁ δύσμορος αὑτῷ χολωθείς, ὥσπερ εἶχ’, ἐπενταθεὶς ἤρεισε πλενραῖς μέσσον ἔγχος
“(Antigone, 1234-6) Then the ill-fated man, angry with himself as he was [and] having stretched [himself] against his sword, thrust it halfway into his ribs.”
The album ends with “Εὐρυδίκη” (Eurydice), Creon’s wife, the Queen of Thebes, and the mother of Hæmon. The queenly, gentle and quiet character quickly devolves into a paragon of fury, grief and despair when she curses her husband aloud and takes her own life violently after she learns the tragic fate of her son. In such a patriarchal society as Ancient Greece, this character was quite novel in that she defied the king and chose for herself her demise. Much slower, the song builds on mid-tempo dissonant and weighty chord progressions, with a rather melodious line under the toneless vocals. It evolves a few times throughout, reflecting the changes in the character’s development and storyline, ending the album with crushingly distorted chords. The line on the image reads:
παίσας ὐϕ’ ἧπαρ αὐτόχειρ αὑτήν, ὅπως παιδὸς τόδ’ ᾔσθετ’ ὀξυϰώϰυτον πάθος.
“(Antigone 1315-6) She smote herself with her own hand under the liver, so that she felt the suffering of her son, to be lamented with shrill cries.”
All this tragedy is a heavy burden and takes a toll on Creon’s mind, who slowly slides into madness; all the things he held true – righteousness, rigour in the application of the law, and God’s will -, have led to utter chaos and the death of his entire family. As a whole, Κρέων is a magnificently terrible doom opera that feels consistent from Alpha to Omega. Ρορϰαλ (Rorcal) have topped their game with this album, and even though it’s a bit hard to tell one song from another, they truly stick to their desperate, furious and deliberate thematics. Each track evolves continuously as it follows the story, instead of falling into the most basic tropes of musical composition: repetition and anticipation, it’s more akin to reading a book than listening to the radio. It might not have sounded this way, but I really think it is a rather flawless album. For what it aims to do, it succeeds, and they certainly raised the bar for other bands and for themselves too. This, truly, is a sublime piece of work.
A press copy of the album was provided for this review via The Black Birch.
Special thanks to redditor hilaera for the help with Ancient Greek translation, as well as fellow Lefteris Kefalas for his invaluable knowledge of the language.
1: Πολυνείκης (Polynices) – 14:44
2: Ἀντιγόνη (Antigone) – 12:44
3: Αἵμων (Haemon) – 11:22
4: Εὐρυδίκη (Eurydice) – 12:32
Total running time: 51:22
Release date: 2016/03/25
Label: Bleak Recordings (PT), Division Records (CH) (CD), Dullest Records (US) (CD), Longlegslongarms Records (JP) (CD), Unquiet Records (PL) (CD), GPS Prod (CH), Grains of Sand Records (RU), Halo of Flies Records (US), Lost Pilgrims Records (FR) and Wolves And Vibrancy Records (DE)
Public Relations: Promo Lost Pilgrims Records
File type listened to: MP3
Bit rate: 320 kbps VBR
Sampling frequency: 44,100 Hz, 2 channels