Someone needs to write an open letter to metal artists letting them know that albums simply don’t need to be longer than 48 minutes. When you have bands like Black Anvil reducing their typical run-time to a completely wasteful 55 minutes and Metallica somehow thinking it’s a great idea to make a double-album that runs 78 minutes, you’ve got a problem. And a note on the Metallica one, that double disc is a fucking commercial ploy to sell more albums and chart higher based on selling two discs for everyone one that is purchased. It’s shitty. Regardless, albums are just way too fucking long these days. Dream Theater, who are basically self-parody at this point, almost reached the two-and-a-half-hour mark on their 2016 release. It’s out of control.
So, when Cultes Des Ghoules decide to drop a double album that runs for, no joke, one hour and thirty-seven minutes, eyes begin to roll. And roll haaaaaaaaaaaaaard. Their last release, Henbane, almost reached the one hour mark, clocking in at 59 minutes. That album was widely celebrated and, despite its nearly absurd length, provided a consistently enjoyable listen. Before Henbane was debut full-length Häxan, which ran 55 minutes. Much like its successor, Häxan was an enjoyable 55 minutes of demonic black metal. Building on that success, they somehow decided that an attempt to cross the hour-and-a-half mark was a brilliant idea. So, was it a great idea or are these people just delusional megalomaniacs with an inflated sense of their own sexual prowess?
Coven is the first Cultes Des Ghoules record that is solely the brainchild of vocalist Mark of the Devil. Although guest musicians provide session work (including members of earlier work) Coven is primarily a singular vision. And that might be why it’s so successful. Each track is a work of the whole, an act within itself featuring a multitude of characters distinguished primarily by voice. Mark of the Devil himself plays every character, and only receives a slight bit of help from Mgla‘s M. during the opening narration. Surprisingly, despite their length, the tracks are straightforward. Each one tells a story in linear fashion supported by riffs, rhythm changes and an ample amount of screams at times sounding like Kevin McCallister; or during the more exasperated, breathy times, reminiscent of Frank Black in his Come On Pilgrim days.
There’s too much music to simply talk about all of it so let’s talk about some highlights. The outro on the first track, “The Prophecy (Prologue) / Devell, the Devell He Is, I Swear God…” is simply Darkthrone-esque. Just a dominant, slowed-down thrash, head-banger of a riff. And it’s not the only one on the track. Multiple times across the nearly 23 minutes Mark of the Devil rips out a pretty swingable guitar riff. And that’s probably the most interesting part of the album, the riffs. Many times you’ll find yourself bopping your head along to these nearly jovial, Ratt-like riffs.
Opposing those riffs are some very serene, nearly atmospheric interludes on the organ that are usually used to set up a scene as in “Mischief, Mischief, the Devilry Is at Toil..” aka Scene II. And while Scene IV, “Storm Is Coming, Come the Blessed Madness…” may prove to be the most ferocious in its opening, the more plodding, moderately paced sections are not only a wonderful contrast but also provide the more fantastical twists to this ribald tale. So there is plenty of balance across the vast plain of existence in this dimension, or realm, created by Cultes Des Ghoules.
And then there’s the behemoth, monster of a track, a track so long it required its own disc, “Satan, Father, Savior, Hear My Prayer…” aka Scene V. Opening with a 1930’s movie theme played under samples of a prayer to Satan wishing to be a good wife (who wouldn’t marry that!?), Scene V hits hard as the organ rips open to accompany the slogging guitar and drums. It’s here that the philosophical underpinnings of the story are revealed: free will, breaking the chains of Christianity and the Church. Yet, our heroine Dorothea chooses, essentially, death through ritual and bestial, drug-tinged induction into the slavery of the Luciferian order.
Sure, it’s really, really long. Longer than most films. But for all it’s length, Coven actually pulls off being both a play and an album remarkably well. It also contains some of the most enjoyable and potentially most straight-forward, Darkthrone-ian of all the Cultes Des Ghoules music to date. Hiding in there, especially if you break it up on subsequent listens, is a really good album. And it’s long for a reason; Coven is not merely an album but it’s also a play broken up into five acts that, you got it, correspond to the tracks with the lyrics taking the form of a multitude of characters. If you can take the time to dig in, you’ll find Coven well worth it although the length may make multiple spins about as challenging listening to Tristan und Isolde alone in your basement.