It’s easy to get wrapped up always searching for the new, the fresh, the strange twist on the old moves and forget why you came here in the first place. It’s equally easy to bury one’s head in the sand of “old school or no school” and embrace premature musical senescence. Which is why every now and again it’s nice to come across a band like Athens’s Ravencult that doesn’t just inject the old in the new, or try to graft the new onto the old, but instead refuses to even acknowledge the question, grabbing you by the scruff of the neck and hurling you through a plate glass window, all the while screaming, “Fuck you and all these words, asshole, THIS IS HEAVY METAL.” Because seriously, holy Hellas is Morbid Blood ever a prime display of fists-in-the-air, what’s-that?-I-can’t-hear-you-because-I’m-too-busy-having-my-damn-mind-blown black metal.
In fact, the entirety of Morbid Blood plays like the best sort of black metal potpourri. Ravencult has perfected a supremely focused blend of the sloppy black/thrash of Aura Noir or Desaster (see especially “Possessed on Burial Ground”) and the ruthless black traditionalism of the Finnish scene (think Horna, Sargeist, Baptism, Azaghal). “Hail Revenge” emotes like the best of De Mysteriis-era Mayhem, and even suggests a primitive reinterpretation of Thorns’ obsidian futurism. Meanwhile, the opening of “Winds of Damnation” is a dead ringer for Deathspell Omega circa Kénôse, or any of the other deadly serious “orthodox” black metal acts of the past five or six years. The song squeezes itself through a number of tight stylistic corners, shifting down into a funeral march before returning to the furious pace of the opening theme. Far more important than its ability to tick the boxes on this game of Black Metal Bingo (patent pending) is the fact that this album knows how to kick serious ass, mixing up tempos and styles with reckless and complete disregard for the health of one’s relentlessly banged head. (The breakdown into the harsh slow burn in “Hail Revenge” is a prime example.)
This fact leads into one of the only complaints about the album, in that while the second half (er, excuse me… “Side Blood”) is not necessarily a drop-off in quality, it does see the band easing off the perfectly executed stylistic change-ups of the first half, meaning that some of the tracks bleed together more than they might with better sequencing. Still, from the fiercely punkish “With Hunger in Eyes” to “Sworn to the Unspoken Oath,” which knows how to lock in to one of those great churning grooves before splitting your head wide open with straight-ahead riffage, and from the more spacious sound of “Black Rites of Execration,” where primarily open, sustained chords lead into rollicking, floorboard-rattling double-bass drumming and some seriously snaky guitar licks, to the chaotic but buried melodicism of “The Gates of Bloodshed,” Morbid Blood is all action, all the time.
What all of this blackened variety means is that Ravencult doesn’t necessarily have a unique sound to call its own; what the band does have is an impressive knack for taking the best bits of a number of black metal’s kaleidoscopic dark hues and painting a diverse and intelligent landscape from this genre’s uniquely malleable and recombinant DNA. We’re talking Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” except the sleeping village is descended upon by ravenous werebeasts, or Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” but the beachgoers aren’t moving and their pores are dappled (morbid) red and some vast, silent horror whispers its hideous intent in a skeletal wind creeping through dead trees. Every pick stroke and bass kick is a pointillist pin-prick bleeding away your resistance, inscribing these scenes deep in your muscle memory. Black art or fine art, Ravencult is here to get you learned.