"Somniferum" (Sonic Abyss; 2006)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

I was familiar with The Red King as the band’s previous release, “Vitriolvm,” had appeared on a number of 2005 Top Ten Lists. Nearly all comments attached to “Vitriolvm” came with a disclaimer that the disc
wasn’t necessarily as “metal” as one might think for something ranked so highly by metal critics.

Although I’d not had the chance to hear “Vitriolvm” I was intrigued by the opportunity to hear The Red King’s latest release, “Somniferum.” By listening to “Somniferum” one is drawn inward instantaneously by neo-classical, symphonic sonic alchemy. Disparate elements are linked together in a progressive way while retaining the root of what makes black metal so stirring – a pure way to express nature and the human condition. 

The Red King (Johann Bran Cleereman) is up-front in his attempts to create “communal” music. Cleereman fuses elements of classical music, Middle Eastern percussion, darkwave, gothic, and semi-industrial overtones. In doing so, Cleereman truly creates symphonic pieces – drawing from this wide variety of stylistic influences seems to approach something that would bring people together rather than split them apart. Sort of like hymns sung in church or an organized congregation of similar-minded religious souls expressing their beliefs through music.

With “Sominferum,” Cleereman relies on ambience to tie things together. As a consequence, “Somniferum” is dominated by synthesizers and keyboards.  Still, the abundance of ambience keeps the album moving forward even when it retreats into what sounds more like a horror movie soundtrack than a heavy metal album.

The final track is a 30 minute exercise in one repeated loop, which by my calculations, appears more than 3,000 times in the song. Slight washes of varied ambient noise (think of the sound of wind) percolate over the repeated loop. Is this track designed to be hypnotic? It definitely seemed trance inducing to me. If anything, I could hear the repeated loop even after the song ended – not unlike blinking and seeing a camera flash long after the initial burst. Curious and unnecessary, but intriguing nonetheless. 

“Somniferum” is an odds-on favorite to appear on many metal critics’ “best of 2006” lists. It will certainly appear on my “best of” list for 2006.

“Somniferum” was produced by Johann Bran Cleereman (ex-Corvus Corax).

The Red King is Johann Bran Cleereman.

For more information visit

Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.

Back to CD Reviews Home

Back to Home

Copyright © 2007  by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 03 Jun 2024 13:03:50 -0400.