Triumphs: a bizarre alternative blackened post-industrial world of Rome as a corrupt industrial power

Theatruum, Triumphs, Italy, Xenoglossy Productions, XP057 limited edition cassette (2023)

Listening to “Triumphs”, the debut album from mystery raw BM duo Theatruum, is quite a singular experience: the whole work appears blurry and (deliberately) badly produced, with various elements drawn from raw lo-fi black metal, dark ambient, drone, industrial and noise, and mixed into a strange sonic brew at once savage and yet sophisticated in a degenerate and corrupt way, appearing to look back to the gladiatorial combats of ancient Rome and forward to a futuristic neo-fascist world in which new and horrifically sadistic entertainments are put on to satisfy the public demand for violence and emotional release to relieve the pressures of living under police state rule. By turns the music can be dark, bleak and desolate, with outbursts of fast grinding guitar chaos and muffled vocals, passages of harsh blizzard abrasion or searing raw guitar riffing, and long dronescapes of factory machine rhythms and background industrial ambience.

The album is based on the work of 18th-century Italian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo which brought together the world of classical mythology and legend, and Christian scriptures into a colourful and often unconventional theatrical art of fantasy and caprice. Each of the eight tracks is inspired by a painting by Tiepolo, as indicated in the track titles and the album’s artwork. You’d never guess from the music though, that Tiepolo’s work is vivid and often light-hearted in its fantastical way, and perhaps the only thing Tiepolo and Theatruum could be said to have in common is their striving for theatrical drama. As Tiepolo’s work is filled with light and colour, so Theatruum’s work seems to come from a universe where greyness in all its dark shades seems to be the only colour, and life is grim, harsh and unrelentingly oppressive.

Tracks tend to be on the short side with only two pieces going past the five-minute mark so they all seem rather like snapshot fragments of a larger music soundtrack that might have been recorded for a film made hundreds of years ago in an alternative history of Earth, in which the Industrial Revolution came early to the Roman Empire and allowed that power to spread and dominate most of the planet with brutal political, economic and cultural hyper-imperium. That film might be as much a criticism as well as a celebration of that empire with all its achievements, conquests, bombast and corruption. In nearly all tracks, brief though they are, the music is so forbiddingly grim as to be almost unbearable to listen to. The atmosphere reeks of post-industrial decay and deterioration. The vocals are so distorted as to seem at once monstrous and (in later tracks) a bit wretched and pitiful.

Even though “Triumphs” is not what I’d call a lovable work – it’s more an album to be approached with respect, awe, even caution – still, I find myself wishing it could have been longer, with each track having at least another couple of minutes for further development of its music and ideas, and inviting greater immersion into what could have been a distinctive if bizarre blackened post-industrial sound universe.