SEEN AND HEARD: CIRITH UNGOL, CULTES DES GHOULES, HELRUNAR, WITCHTHROAT SERPENT, GEVURAH
Heavy metal’s fascination with the occult has deep roots and shows no signs of weakening. It is manifested in many ways, not all of which can be reconciled into some philosophically consistent gestalt, running the gamut from sorcery and witchcraft to elaborate schools of satanism, from the Dark Lords of Middle Earth to the horrors conceived by Lovecraft.
To this day, the embracing and channeling of evil cuts broad swaths across metal genres (white magic fell before the power of black magic within heavy metal in its infancy), though how we should understand the concept of “evil” and why it’s such a persistent feature of metal are subjects beyond the scope of this post. The subjects are on my mind simply because they had something to do with why I chose the following five new songs for this round-up, all of which appeared (in many instances without warning) over the last 24 hours.
The first bolt from the blue took the form of the first studio recording by these Kings of the Dead since the release of Paradise Lost in 1991. It’s a single named “Witch’s Game“, which was recorded for inclusion in the forthcoming animated movie The Planet of Doom (more info about that here). The B-side of the single is a live version of “Doomed Planet” as performed at Germany’s Hammer of Doom festival in 2017. As you can see, it comes with stunning cover art by Michael Whelan.
Those who’ve seen and heard Cirith Ungol on stage since their reunion a couple years ago (and I’m not one, yet) report that they’ve still “got it” despite the passage of so many decades (the line-up is the same as it was in 1991, save for new bassist Jarvis Leatherby). Still, it would be forgivable to have some trepidation about whether a brand new composition and recording would be more than an excuse to open the nostalgia floodgates.
Turns out, hell yes, that “Witch’s Game” is quite an outstanding achievement, one that beautifully aligns with the band’s legacy but also sounds remarkably vibrant and relevant. One of the most impressive aspects of the new song is the proof that Tim Baker can still belt out the vocals in electrifying fashion (if anything deserves an exception to our Rule about singing, this performance absolutely does), and the lyrics are great.
But the sources of the song’s riveting impact don’t stop there. It powerfully generates a sinister, sorcerous, insidiously seductive atmosphere while packing in irresistibly head-bangable riffs and skull-cracking work by the rhythm section. The leads and the soloing have an epic, occult resonance and easily get stuck in the head, and when the song starts to gallop near the mid-point, you’ll feel your pulse begin to race, too.
CULTES DES GHOULES
I honestly don’t believe it’s possible to make music like this next song unless the artists are genuinely in the throes of a possession. It sounds too much like a genuine possession, too much like the opening of a mystical gate to satanic forces, too strongly like the manifestation of pure evil. It doesn’t really matter whether you believe possession is the result of forces outside the self, or the manifestation of a self within yourself — the result here is no less chilling.
The song is “Children of the Moon“. It appeared without warning, like another bolt from the blue, or a meteor from a stygian black sky. It’s one of five tracks on a new album by the Polish sorcerors Culthes Des Ghoules, which will be digitally released on September 23. Undoubtedly, physical releases will come, but there’s no news about that just yet. [UPDATE: On September 23, Hells Headbangers will release the album on CD, and will release a double-vinyl edition on October 31.]
The repeating drum-and-bass rhythm in the song is simple but makes a direct connection to the reptile part of the brain, and the malicious chords and eerie, wailing leads have a similar primitive appeal, evoking the kind of primal response that our hominid ancestors must have felt when sensing unseen threats in the dark beyond the illumination of their flickering fires. The vocals, well, they really do sound possessed. What a blood-freezing narcotic this is.
The conceptual focus of Helrunar‘s new album isn’t really occult, based on the descriptions that have appeared so far, but the music is nonetheless evil in its sound.
Conceptually, Vanitas Vanitatvm (“vanity of vanities” or “all is vain”) addresses “different forms of vanity and narcissism, which are rampant in our age, to reveal their psychological and societal origins and consequences. Both traits are contrasted by death and corruption to show their inanity.” So says frontman M.D., and the descriptive material for the album further explains that the lyrics (in German) draw inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, the Bible, the Black Plague, the novel Simplicius Simplicissimus, and the myth of the nachzerer (depicted here as a modern stalker).
Musically, M.D. places the album somewhere between Niederkunfft (2015) and Sól (2011). He describes the songs on the new album as “more compact and mature”, “mostly faster”, and “more black metal”, with “influences you might call nostalgic”.
“Blutmond” is the album track that was released yesterday. It’s a venomous and voracious beast of a song that burns like hellfire (the vocals are bestial too), but man, it’s also incredibly infectious, and the chiming, swirling, and spiraling filaments of melody that lace the track have an unearthly sound. It truly does sound like black magic practiced under a blood moon, achieving sensations of dark majesty and just as effectively creating hallucinatory visions of inhuman menace.
Vanitas Vanitatvm will be released by Prophecy Productions on September 28. Below you’ll find not only “Blutmond” but also a stream of a previously released track, “In Eis und Nacht”.
I probably would have included this next song in today’s round-up anyway, but once I decided to lead with Cirith Ungol‘s new single the choice seemed compelled. It just felt like it belonged in the back-and-forth flow of the music after that lead-in track and the two I selected to follow it. And of course the singing had something to do with that (yes, this is another exception to our Rule).
The track here is “Scorpent Serpion“, which is not a typo. It’s off Swallow the Venom, the new third album by the French occult doom band Witchthroat Serpent, with cover art by Andy Julia. It follows the band’s excellent 2016 album Sang-Dragon , from which we were fortunate to premiere a track.
The heavy, fuzz-bombed tone of the stringed instruments in the song is enough to drug the listener’s mind all by itself. Fredrik Bolzann’s cool, haunting wails are downright witchy, and when he throws his voice higher, it seems to burn with sinister ecstasy. Near the end, there’s an opium-smoke solo that’s delicious, and of course the whole song will put your body into a lurching movement that will be hard for your rational mind to control.
The music comes with a video that suits the atmosphere of the track.
Swallow the Venom will be released by Svart Records on November 23rd.
(not yet available)
And to close, here’s one more piece of music that appeared yesterday without warning. It’s a song named “Mark of Lucifer“, which will appear on an EP entitled Sulphur Soul by the Montreal black metal band Gevurah.
I wasted no time in listening to this once I saw a Bandcamp alert about it in my e-mail — because I was so in thrall to this band’s 2016 debut album Hallelujah! (which we premiered and reviewed here), as well as their previous releases. I poured forth many words about that album in advance of its release, including these:
“There may be a more overpoweringly intense album than Hallelujah! released this year, but I doubt it. The music vividly summons the terrifying majesty and ominous power of the fallen angel; it’s unrelenting in its pitch-black darkness and its devotion to the fierce power of chaos…. It’s staggeringly powerful, intricately plotted and given deep textures in ways that are uncommon.”
“Mark of Lucifer”, one of four tracks on this new 32-minute EP, comes out storming immediately, a blazing gale of thundering percussion and cyclonic riffing that wholly envelops the senses. An alluring melody courses through the typhoon, in contrast to the vocals, which are terrifyingly intense. Still, the intensity of the opening two minutes isn’t really adequate preparation for the blasting power of the chaos that’s unleashed next. If we were in the red zone in the beginning, we’re rocketed into the zone of infrared radiation after that, in a display of breathtaking explosiveness.
The song continues to change, with the all-encompassing and exultant frenzies of the music punctuated by enormous drum booms, but it is relentlessly electrifying throughout.
Sulphur Soul will be released on September 28th.
It’s so awesome to hear new music from Cirith Ungol, and the track is badass! 🙂
And it just gets more badass the more I’ve listened to it. An enormous surprise, and enormously welcome.
If anything Tim’s vocals have gotten better! Those screams in Witches Game are straight from hell
Fuckin’ right they are!
I’ve been listening to that new Cultes des Ghoules song every chance I get since I heard about it yesterday. That was an immediate pre-order for me, and the album itself came as a surprise – I wasn’t expecting anything from them so soon after last year’s outstanding marathon album.
But god damn is this new song good.