It’s a good time to be a rock band in the metal press, especially when one has seen support from such respected underground labels as Ván and Profound Lore. Still, the as-yet-unflagging growth of the occult rock cottage industry has made it increasingly difficult to separate the inspired from the insipid. That the Dutch ritualists in The Devil’s Blood are family makes sense; The Thousandfold Epicentre is warm, familiar, and inviting. More importantly, however, after the great promise of the band’s Come, Reap EP but the mostly dull debut full-length, The Thousandfold Epicentre finally marks the triumphant arrival of The Devil’s Blood as a truly mesmerizing force of nature.
The two greatest assets working in The Devil’s Blood’s favor are its whole-hearted embrace of psychedelia and the bewitching vocals of singer F. The Mouth of Satan. (I don’t make it up, folks, I just report on it.) In recalling a fairly diverse range of 60s and 70s rock influences – from Hawkwind and Black Widow to Jefferson Airplane and Fleetwood Mac – The Devil’s Blood operates in layers. We’re talking layers and layers of all sorts of odd sounds and textures: acoustic guitars, piano, shakers, wobbling reverb, buried guitar squall, not-so-buried guitar squall, subtle synths, seriously bouncy bass, tambourine, swoops and hisses of noise, synthesized orchestral arrangements, and so on. Basically, there’s so much stuff going on in the texture of these songs that you’ll never pick it all out, but that’s clearly not the point. This wealth of instrumentation never feels burdensome because the songs are always carried on an ever-cresting wave of sturdy rhythm tracks and principal songwriter Selim Lemouchi’s alternately clean, grimy, chiming, and wailing guitar lines.
And then, of course, there are the unimpeachable vocals of F. The Mouth of Satan. At the lower end of her vocal range, she occasionally brings to mind ex-Swans avant-chanteuse Jarboe, though there is also something in the wideness of her frequent vibrato that suggests a half-tamed Diamanda Galás. Neither as earthy and quavering as Jarboe nor the sultry banshee wail of Galás, F’s tone is rounder and almost honey-sweet. Her voice is stirring enough on its own, but throughout the album she accompanies herself with an array of double- (and triple-) tracking, multi-part harmonies, and point/counterpoint lines that almost feel like a fugue.
Running for well over an hour, the album wisely cuts its healthy dose of lengthy, acid-freaked jams with compact, palate-cleansing rockers like “Die the Death,” “Cruel Lover,” and “Fire Burning,” the latter of which almost fizzles into too-straightforward blandness before its midsection wisely bats its eyes at Thin Lizzy with some none-too-hurried twin guitar. The strut-and-gallop of “Cruel Lover” is a delight, but the real star of the show is “She,” with an impossibly catchy and satisfying chorus that provides an excellent showcase for the inescapably lovely effect when numerous tracks of F’s vocals are layered and harmonized. The lilting strings-and-guitar transition between “She” and the title track is just one of many brilliant little flourishes, and if you make it through the title track and don’t find yourself singing along (“I call your name: Devil! Of a thousand faces!”), well, friend, your ears just may be busted and broke.
The lilt and hush of “Everlasting Saturnalia” is probably a bit too understated for its own good, but its surprisingly dramatic coda provides an excellent transition into the strident march of “The Madness of Serpents,” which is backed by an army of voices and staccato ale-house piano. The last five minutes of the song are floaty and hushed, and the reintroduction of the song’s opening theme rides an increasingly taut wave that dissipates just before it crashes. The 15-minute closer “Feverdance” is much closer to the Japanese psych-rocking Ghost than the Swedish Pope-ophiliac Ghost, with its pastoral opening giving way to a profusion of psychedelic micro-shredding. A seemingly endless build-up finally crests rather unexpectedly into a half-time dirge around the ten-minute mark that sinks its teeth into a rich and doomy string-led coda.
All told, the album does carry on a bit long, but it’s always so easy to sit back and bask in its enchantment that it’s hard to get particularly worked up over a lack of careful editing. There’s a distributive economy of retro going on with this latest surge in occult rock. Although all of these recent acts drink deeply from the heady wine of the late 60s and early 70s, groups such as Jex Thoth and Blood Ceremony seem drawn closer to the proto-metal/doom of the era, whereas The Devil’s Blood makes its peace with the twisted strands of psych, acid rock, and a fair helping of folk. The success of these acts suggests that there’s life left down each path. Whichever you prefer, The Thousandfold Epicentre is undeniably lush and languorous; it stretches and then coils back on itself. It’s a good time to be in the metal press when metal-tangent rock gets as good as this. A do-not-miss bliss-out blow-up freak-out.