Although a number of the Italian black metal acts conformed quite heavily to the obvious Scandinavian influencers, there were a few exceptions to the rule which hinted at a unique approach to the genre that mirrors their Ionian fellows in Greece. Mortuary Drape is one of the primary among those, a group that has always thrived on both its formative horror influences as well as the 'first wave' of black and death metal rooted in the 80s, much like the Italians themselves. In the DNA of their sound, you can find a lot of the vile thrashing of Possessed, Slayer, Sepultura and Sarcofago, dealt with a bit of the gruff Hellhammer or Celtic Frost groove and vocal roughness. This is not a group thriving off blast beats and endless streams of tremolo picked notes or dissonant chords, but something primitive and malignant.
I remember when a friend first gifted me this CD, and though I was enraptured by the great, Satanic cover imagery, I didn't know what to make of it up front. I had heard of the band's earlier album and their name was whispered across the lips of the right people, but had not gotten around to experiencing them myself. At first, I wasn't entirely impressed beyond the cool packaging, for so much of this just sounding like a lot of dirty old black/thrash, but this one proved a 'grower' rather than a 'shower'; Secret Sudaria is for sure one of the band's most consistent, elaborate and evil works which transforms a lot of its own inspirations into something formidable. This sits right in the nexus between thrash, black and death metal as it once was, and offers a lot of barbaric riffing staples dowsed in great, organic guitar leads, with some fresh sounding drums, decent bass grooves, and a daunting vocal growl with is spiked with just the perfect amount of reverb so every line barks upon you like an occult preacher about to sacrifice your village's collective bones to the Prince of Darkness.
There are some really great, doomy sequences here too, like the climactic riff near the end of "Abbot", or the phased intro to "Evil Death" which almost sounds like it sets up an epic dark heavy metal track before it shifts into the Hellhammer-like Neanderthal black metal. Secret Sudaria is this brute of an album which sates both the first wave fanatic's desire for utter primacy and lack of compromise, and then those slight atmospheric touches which hint at so much more. Terrifying vocals, great lyrics that paint tales of black sorcery and supernatural entities, and one of those immortal production jobs which might not have blown me away back in the day, but really holds up when I listen to it now. This is almost always my go-to in Mortuary Drape's catalog; it's not entirely perfect, but its the summit of so many of the ideals I find from their unswerving approach to authentic black metal that remains loyal to its own forebears while tempering it with an Italo/cult horror aesthetic that made it stand out. You want the Mario fucking Bava of black metal? You've found it.
Verdict: Epic Win [9/10] (Read his book of doom)