(We welcome guest contributor Evan Clark, who has written at a couple of other metal sites in the past, and whose first thoughts at NCS concern the debut album of Belzebubs, which was released on April 25th.)
Belzebubs is an interesting beast that owes some similarities to acts such as Metalocalypse or Ghost. The band is the real-world manifestation of a fictional band within a popular webcomic, all three sharing the same name. The webcomic plays out like a family-oriented newspaper strip, but with the added benefit of the central characters all being doused in a heavy dose of black metal chic. Belzebubs in our world maintains the face and act of the fictitious band, and has been deployed upon our world with its members anonymous.
The creator J.P. Ahonen seems to have hired well-known or at least competent metal musicians to write and coordinate material that could feasibly stem from the fictitious band. The mystery of who is actually performing on the record is quite intriguing, with many people suspecting members of Insomnium — the vocalists for the two bands sound eerily similar — yet the true wonder can be found from the fact that the album, in its current state, exists at all.
Call me a cynic, but even as a fan of the webcomic it is truly surprising to be able to say that the album is actually quite good. And not even in the sense that it’s a competent release from an unexpected source material. Taken on its own merits, Pantheon of the Nightside Gods is probably the most engaging and interesting piece of melodic death metal I’ve heard all year, in a year that hasn’t been lacking in solid releases. While you might expect an album like this to be just another cash-grab attempt at monetizing a brand — which it is — it has far more to say, and much more substance than anyone could have hoped for. This is a record that is finely tuned to the wants and desires of the fanbase from which it has taken its aesthetic. It shows a deep understanding of the genre and the ways in which it fails and succeeds.
While the fictitious band this album is based on is more entrenched in the black metal side of the spectrum, Pantheon of the Nightside Gods is more concerned with creating a mood rather than sticking strictly to a script. The album takes a more digestible approach and delivers some of the best atmospheric metal this side of Gothenburg. The band employ some piercingly strong guitar leads throughout the album, as well as some truly memorable and hypnotic rhythm sections.
They craft an entire realm almost instantaneously. The strong guitar work exudes a sense of scale and preeminence. The melodies around them entice and persuade as they course through the ceremonial styled album. And the vocal performance is thick, evocative, and often quite menacing. The whole album delights in a gospel-like approach to darkness. These are not just companion songs to a cartoon band; these are hymns and exaltations to dark and forgotten gods.
Clocking in at just under 53 minutes, this is no short release, yet sitting through it never feels like an arduous task. After every listen I’ve come away with a new aspect to appreciate and a new reason to go back to the album. The first time through was morbid curiosity, and a dire sense of apprehension — schlocky metal is an abundance — and I didn’t want to have to spend more than 20 minutes listening to tongue-in-cheek attempts at deconstructing the Scandinavian metal template. What I found instead was a deeply engaging and energetic take on melodic death metal, complete with overblown and bombastic occult imagery.