In Cauda Venenum started back in 2010 by Romain Lupino, better known as Ictus within the band's ranks. In 2012, Nicolas Del├ęchenault, who goes by the initials N.K.L.S., was brought in as the drummer for the project, while Ictus would handle everything else. It wouldn't be until five years after the initial date of conception this now two-piece black metal act from France would make their presence felt with their self-titled full-length debut in early April of 2015. The recording, a two song opus, was picked up for limited distribution through Emanations, a sub-label to the underground powerhouse known as Les Acteurs de l'Ombre Productions. But does this just over forty-two minute offering stand as a testament to the regional impact of the style, incorporating an artistic touch to the conceptual atmospheres and "post-" approach , or is it nothing but pretentious and generic compositions in the rawest form manageable?

In Cauda Venenum is that of a raw sounding effort, though it exists for a reason: Atmosphere. Unlike many who use analog traits as a crutch, this one takes full advantage by utilizing it to set up the dim worlds that accompany both the beginning and the end, represented by the song titles themselves. The guitars have a decent sharpness to them, though cleaner when needed, the bass is loud with a low hum that plays into the burdening sensations that often come through, and the drums are all pristine, though a bit distant. The vocals, however, are much deeper in the mix. While much of this shows traces of the depressive black metal style, In Cauda Venenum still manages to present an often venomous Fearbringer laced paganism and grandeur to the music, often effortlessly topping earlier passages with absolute ease. It's as if Emperor and Borknagar teamed up for a recording in their early days, throwing hints of epic heavy metal overtones into the mix for good measure.

"?lpha" is the perfect example of the aforementioned worlds coming together, though not right away. Much like the title's definition, the song feel like a burdening boom to something grand, much like one would expect the tension to be if baring witness to the big bang, though in this case we are greeted with a the cries of a newborn instead of an explosion. The latter of those two is held until three minutes in as the music suddenly erupts, giving a little more substance to the dark atmosphere already presented. Things do slow again about seven minutes in, but not to act as a bridge between multiple compositions like many bands would do in order to reach the lengths these two songs do. After the abrupt beginning, there's a pause, as if a beautiful evolution or growing phase that comes through incredibly humid with painstaking vocals in the background of the catchy bass-heavy grooves that gradually tip the scales in favor of epic environments a few minutes later, jumping between the two quite well. In Cauda Venenum wasn't afraid of throwing some emotion into the fray either, as depicted with the moving guitar solo about fifteen minutes in, and again about a minute and a half later that carries on until the bitter, yet fairly suiting and inspiring end.

"?mega", however, doesn't take as much time to let the music kick in to full effect. A mixture of dreary viking-esque overtones are felt across both the slower paced grooves, and the glorious sounding melodic passages with some additional speed that are sometimes on par with mid-career Cradle of Filth. Unlike the previous cut, this one has a more obvious mournful sensation, as if coming to the end of the life that the screams during "?lpha" depicted as just beginning, especially in the guitar solo about four and a half minutes in that leads to a brutally dismal mixture of plodding doom metal and hysterical speed common of the depressive post-black metal terrain. Much of the center, however, seems to just move along begrudgingly. After about seven minutes in, the pace really dies down, building up this sense of hopelessness, like a procession into one's own demise, offering little to keep you invested until a jump to acoustic chords against silence with a hint of reverb thirteen-and-a-half minutes in. It's nothing to consider padding, but it doesn't quite capture what appears to be the sensation of passing from this mortal plane of existence, an atmosphere you may not perceive until a minute later during the memorial-sounding material that amplifies the sensation of an event such as a viking funeral, coming full circle to the aforementioned introductory environment.

While "?mega" doesn't quite have the same impact as "?lpha" does, both tracks stand as fantastic excursions through the literal meaning behind both titles. The duo that is In Cauda Venenum really capture a great array of emotions throughout the two compositions, most of the time without even trying, or so it sounds. Between just the right amount of analog, volume levels, and mastering, this self-titled debut outing is simply a fantastic example of the powers that the black metal genre holds, and why many will fight so vehemently any who oppose it. In fact, In Cauda Venenum winds up a breath of fresh air. Each song flows smoothly from start to finish, building up the proper atmospheres when necessary to the extensive concept behind each creation, leaving the listener both with a sense of wonder and closure, the latter moreso by the end, of course. If you're a fan of the atmospheric or post-black metal styles, In Cauda Venenum is definitely a release worth checking out. Hopefully it won't take another five years for a new album that, at the very least, is as equal in quality as this one is.

Review originally posted at Apoch's Metal Review.