(Andy Synn dedicates what may be his last review of 2022 to our old friends in Dødsengel)
Let’s face it, I may not be great at predicting what bands are going to become big and successful… but I’m pretty good at predicting which bands are going to become great.
Of course, by the time I discovered Dødsengel they were already great – I might even go so far as to call their titanic 2012 album Imperator a “masterpiece” if only that word hadn’t been bastardised beyond repair – but I’d be lying if I said that a part of me wasn’t always hoping to see them achieve the same level of acclaim and appreciation that bands like Batushka and/or Zeal & Ardor have received in their stead.
That was, honestly, never going to happen though. Dødsengel have always been a little too weird, a little too out-there (despite their increasingly melodic, borderline gothic, tendencies and uncanny vocal charisma) to ever achieve that sort of cross-over success. But that hasn’t stopped them continuing to be great, even if they’ve had to do it in (relative) obscurity.
Perhaps their new album will change that though, as while the core of the group’s enigmatic sound – a boutique blend of Blut Aus Nord‘s sinister strangeness and the gloomy occult glamour of Cathedral, all mixed up with a hefty dose of the high-camp Heavy Metal histrionics of King Diamond and an undercurrent of hypnotic psychedelia whose legacy goes all the way back to The Beatles (and beyond) – remains largely unaltered, it seems to me that Bab Al On may well be the most “accessible” record of the band’s career.
This is despite – or perhaps because of – the fact that it is also one of the most varied and versatile works they’ve yet produced, with songs like the thunderous “Bursting as Boils From the Backs of Slaves” and the intensely infectious “Hour of Contempt” showcasing an even harsher and more aggressive side of the band, while other tracks – most notably the album’s extravagant, eight-minute centrepiece “The Lamb Speaks” – up the metallic theatricality even further, even as numbers such as “Waters of Unravelling” and “In The Heart of the World” err more towards the darker, doomier end of the spectrum.
And then, of course, there’s the record’s two biggest outliers – the sombre, ecclesiastical “Agnus Dei” and the hypnotically poetic “Dies Irae” – which take things in a different direction entirely, one that pushes the extremes of the band’s sound… though perhaps not in any of the ways which you might expect.
But this willingness to go to these sorts of extremes, to follow their muse whatever the cost, is also evident when you zoom in a little more too – after all, very few of these tracks are only one thing, regardless of the fact that they may lean a little more in one direction or another.
“In the Beginning”, for example, is part blistering blast-orgy, part ambient arthouse installation, while the aforementioned “Hour of Contempt” marries a bevy of hellishly catchy Goth Rock hooks to a veritable barrage of bellicose Black Metal belligerence to create one of the most anthemic tracks of the band’s career.
And then there’s colossal closer “Abomination Gate”, whose alchemical amalgam of everything that’s come before it (and then some) serves to make it, arguably, the definitive example of who, and what, Dødsengel are, forever captured at this precise moment in time.
As you might have gathered from all this, Bab Al On is nothing if not ambitious, and certainly covers a lot of musical ground over the course of its demanding seventy-two minute length.
But this, at least, is nothing new for the band (after all, their previous album, Interequinox, was a little over fifty-six minutes long, and Imperator reached a massive two-and-a-half hours), and while there may be the occasional lull in the proceedings (most notably the ill-placed, and ill-paced “Annihilation Mantra”), there’s no question that it remains as captivating, compelling, and challenging as the band have always been throughout. And, in my opinion at least, it’s high time these particular devils received their due.