The Tormented Wanderer Trilogy: exploring existential pain, despair and hopelessness in a cosmic trap

Reflet Crépusculaire, The Tormented Wanderer Trilogy, Italy, Canti Eretici, CANTO XX limited edition cassette (2023)

Released originally as three separate digital EPs by Orbius Tertius, the lone artist behind Reflet Crépusculaire, over November, December and January (2022 – 2023), “The Tormenter Wanderer” has now become available as a limited edition cassette compilation thanks to Italian label Canti Eretici. These recordings address themes of existential pain, despair and hopelessness in which an unknown entity investigates our universe and discovers that all its inhabitants (us included) are condemned to living out their lives in patterns and schemas that limit choice and freedom, and from which there is no escape. It’s a very despairing (and perhaps not very original) paradigm in which to view the human condition. As Reflet Crépusculaire takes its inspiration from the short stories and poetry of famed 20th-century Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, I had hoped these EPs would draw more on Borgesian concepts such as the notion of a universe being a labyrinthine network or library-like structure in which texts are read and interpreted only to reveal even more texts that must be deciphered, in a never-ending series of texts whose ultimate meaning may be that there is no such thing. The cycle of life, death and rebirth ends up being a lottery, with all of us being gamblers attempting to change our fates – only to be drawn back again and again into the roulette wheel of destiny as a result.

With that rumination aside, the actual music is more straightforward than you might have been led to believe. RC plays minimally styled raw black metal, mostly instrumental with any vocals restricted to roars and shrieks; and with a lo-fi production that probably doesn’t do the music the justice it deserves, giving it a noisy grinding sound but flattening the music as well and obscuring the quieter dungeon synth ambient melodies. The journey starts out rough and grindingly noisy with fast ragged riffs, equally fast if muffled percussion and a roaring voice from some deep subterranean cavern. For such raw lo-fi BM, the riffs can be surprisingly catchy if bleak, even a bit sickly in their tones. The first part of the trilogy (tracks I to III) cruises briskly with each track featuring riff loop after riff loop and sometimes concluding in quiet brooding noise tone. The second part (tracks IV to VI) appear to descend into a deeper world with more melancholy, dissonant guitar chords playing riffs that are still fast for the most part but occasionally diving into slow wandering melody or brief passages of quiet keyboard or piano gloom.

The concluding three tracks (VII to IX) feature more mournful dungeon synth ambient along with more doomy riffs while the voices from deep inside the cavernous dark shriek in pain. Percussion is absent which allows the guitars to roam freely in the black space, though as they do so their sound seems more distorted than ever, as if the very air here is having a corrosive effect on the music. The mood here is more delirious than ever. The final track is the most mysterious of all with touches of sorrowful ambient around the chainsaw riffs and within as well.

It’s an arduous journey through churning, grinding guitar loops only to find at the very end no answer to the questions of the purpose of existence and what may be intended for humans especially. We are all trapped in a hermetic universe, the workings of which may have mattered to whoever created it originally but have now lost their meaning and purpose even as they continue to churn away. The labyrinth is its own machine, labouring for all eternity and shovelling its millions of inmate victims randomly through its infinite networks, again and again.

Those who don’t care for noisy raw BM guitar experimentation might find the entire trilogy monotonous. Even after remixing and remastering, the work can sound flat due to its original rough production despite the additions of ambient music that give some depth and mystery to the guitar music. Tracks do give the impression of going around and around in circles but that is part of the point of the music and the ideas it expresses. Perhaps at some later time, Orbius Tertius may return to this trilogy and rework it to draw out its themes and Borgesian inspirations and worldview even more, and this should make it more complex and intriguing if not necessarily more enjoyable.