Another pair of interesting CDs that caught my attention this week, this time tapping into the darker side.
First up, we have Deathchain, a Finnish act of whom this represents my first exposure. And that’s a shame. Because while I’ve since been exposed to some dismissive reviews of the band’s earlier material, their current album is quite impressive.
Ritual Death Metal is the band’s 6th full length – and first for Svart Records. The current release comes to us some time after 2009’s Death Gods, a similarly interesting opus which, as a longtime Lovecraftian, I’m sorry to have missed, as it seems to have tapped firmly into the Cthulhu mythos.
Further, I’m given to understand that the backing vocalist (who like Mitch Harris in Napalm Death or Jeff Walker of Carcass in reverse, provides the harsher black metal style shrieks in opposition to the more standard throaty L.G. Petrov style growls of Kai Jaakola) actually takes the stage in a Cthulhu mask and robes (!), which is something I’d love to see for myself…
Musically, the band’s sound is best described as a mixture of classic Morbid Angel (before they started messing with electronics and letting everyone down) with early Entombed and other related bands of the Sunlight Studios era: Carnage and Dismember come to mind for their particular aggression, easily paralleled herein.
Lyrically, their hardline focus on demonology brings to mind acts like Necrophobic, Absu, Nile, Therion or Morbid Angel, but for those of us unimpressed by this sort of magickal dilletantism, the important thing is the sound – crunchy buzzsaw guitars delivered in the classic Swedish style, but with strong hints of the stutter beats and sudden stops of Trey and company (or Immortal circa Blizzard Beasts, if you prefer).
I should emphasize at this point that Deathchain, with Ritual Death Metal, represents the first modern death metal band who didn’t elicit from me a gale of involuntary and derisive laughter for the sheer pathos of their ineptitude.
Like the original bands of the glory days of the style, when Florida, Scott Burns and Morrisound and Sweden, Tomas Skogsberg and Sunlight were the twin axes on which the entire genre revolved, Deathchain proves themselves more than worthy of attention herein.
There’s no real point in tapping into specific tracks – it’s a good old school-reminiscent death metal record, so it’s all about sound and atmosphere, not clever lyrics, soaring harmonies or trying out different styles, like you’d get with a more standard traditional or retro metal act.
Suffused with a moody and sinister feel the likes of which the more “brutal”, click track obsessed, “math” and “technical” death metal acts seem to have completely lost or forgotten was what made death metal interesting in the first place, Deathchain taps into the proper vibe and lets it rip. Nothing fancy, no questions asked – if you love classic death metal, particularly the Swedish style, this is one you’ll definitely want to check out.
Deathchain evokes the elder sign and summons you to the ritual courtesy of Svart Records.
Next up we have something even weirder, and therefore more interesting.
Hell’s Headbangers, home of any number of interesting blackened thrash and punk acts (my favorites being Colombia’s Kreator worshipping Witchtrap, Peru’s Bestial Holocaust, and the Misfits/Danzigesque Vladimirs), have delivered yet another eye opening curiosity to our doorstep: Poland’s Cultes des Ghoules, with their new album and second full length, Henbane.
Right away, those in the know should find their ears perking up and eyebrows raising a bit: the band’s name comes from a young Robert Bloch, who was a correspondent of, and contributor to the ever-expanding Cthulhu Mythos of, yet again, a certain Howard Philips Lovecraft (see how both of these acts tie together?).
The book “Cultes des Ghoules” itself is one of those forbidden tomes of unspeakable black magick that hints at the existence of the Elder Race of Great Old Ones, those whose names should not be spoken, and whose slightest incursion into the present day delivers abject terror and madness to those unfortunate enough to encounter them…
Similarly, the name of the album refers to a psychotropic and potentially toxic plant beloved of witches (as one of the ingredients for the psychedelic “flying ointment” of ritual), which has the curious tendency to sprout in graveyards and ruins.
With clever pseudonyms like “de Retz” (Gilles de Retz aka Rais), “Minski” (Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov), and “Mark of the Devil” (after the infamous German grindhouse inquisition torture film of the early 70’s), the band adheres firmly to the arcane literary and psychological associations thereof, with the atmosphere taking absolute primacy over any other stylistic or performance based considerations. In other words, don’t expect hit singles, fancy musicianship, or what have you – this all works of a piece, to get you into a particular mindset and keep you there, not unlike early Burzum in that sense.
Needless to say, with this sort of inclination on the part of the band, Henbane has a pleasantly “creepy” vibe to it, which immediately brought to mind Tulus, and their track “sosteren av natten” – particularly evident in the similarly focused “the passion of a sorceress” herein.
There’s a lot of cackling, chanting, and fireside sound effects thrown in to set the scene both between and during the album’s 5 rather lengthy tracks. The music itself falls somewhere between classic Mayhem style black metal and its earlier, rawer precedents in what has been retroactively classified as “blackened thrash” – the earlier records from South American acts like Sarcofago, Sepultura and Vulcano and German acts like Sodom, Destruction and Kreator.
But the closest parallels I can pick up actually fall a bit further outside the template – Italy’s Bulldozer, Hungary’s Tormentor, Finland’s Gloomy Grim, Norway’s Tulus, Czechoslovakia’s Master’s Hammer. Yep, it’s that kind of weird, and that very off-kilterness plays into the appeal of the band.
Little touches often mean a lot, and a wheezing cackle, sinister whisper, or tolling bell appearing amidst one of these long, abidingly strange tracks only cements the feel that you’re privy to something you shouldn’t be – like an innocent stumbling upon a pre-dawn ritual deep in the woods. The only direct analogue to the feeling elicited by the music of Cultes des Ghoules is the sole actual (and self titled) album from Goatlord (whose UK variant went under the title Reflections of the Solstice, but lacked a key track, “voodoo mass”, as well as having a far less evocative sketch cover). Yep, it’s that kind of creepy, and that good.
Dripping with atmosphere, this (like any number of the acts I just mentioned by comparison thereto) will decidedly not be to everyone’s tastes – and such people are left to the more blunt and vapid sounds of modern death (or for that matter, black) metal for their desensitized delectation thereof.
For the aesthetes among us, those who are moved by the approach of a creeping fog and the snap of twigs in a lonely wood, this is our meat and manna. To you, I offer with recommendations and regards this band, this album. Pleasant dreams…
This sinister and forbidden cult offers you its welcome and prepares you with its unholy unguents courtesy of Hell’s Headbangers.