CALVARIUM, The Skull of Golgotha (2003, Dynamic Arts)
So, if you know or care about the skull of Golgotha, the place of the cross, and all that bullshit, you’re gonna love today’s Big Dumb Skull installment. In Calvarium’s depiction of that fable, the skull seems to emit a kind of glow, with a kind of spray rising from the top of the skull to dark storm clouds above. It was a dark day indeed, although it’s always a pretty crummy day when any human nails another human to a cross of wooden planks and leaves him to die there. The skull’s left-facing position is generally frowned upon by the Council, but we really do need to have some representation of the Golgotha skull in the Skullection, don’t we? And Trouble failed us with that when they released The Skull in 1985 (however, that cover totally rules, so we’re glad they left it to Calvarium to take on that awesome responsibility). Technically this is not a great piece of art — when the scale is considered this skull appears to be about 200 feet high and wide — but it’s not bad enough to take jabs at, so I won’t.
Like Valoton (SKULL274), here’s another Finnish band rising above the dull norm and at least trying to do something with a little substance and originality. “Originality” is probably a strong word, but Calvarium’s tunes are well-structured, well-executed, multi-tempo chunks of black metal that feel legitimately spooky without any cheesy contrivinces dumbing things down. The vocals are a few notches less screamy/screechy than the norm, having a kind of throaty, spittle-gurgling, depraved effect, while the guitars swim in a cacophonous wash that blankets everything in their wall of sound. When they speed it up, things lose a little identity and skirt towards the norm (“Horns of Hate,” “Siunatun Surma”), but something like “Jumalviha” has a theatrical vibe that reminds of early Samael and lots of the early ’90s Greek bands. Closer “Suicide Manifesto” creeps along in a sick lurch, bringing doom to the table, making it clear this band is more engaging when cruising on the slower side of the speedometer. While some moments throughout The Skull of Golgotha fall into a bland Marduk-esque malaise, there’s enough textural and tempo variety to keep the interest. And it’s played with the kind of authority you’d except from vets of the Finnish black metal movement; members of this band have also played in of Baptism, Behexen, Alghazanth, Funeris Nocturnum, Drowning the Light and Musta Kappeli, so there you go.
— Friar Wagner