Originally written by Rae Amitay
Though I typically swoon over any reference to the Cthulhu Mythos, I couldn’t make myself fall in love with Cultes Des Ghoules. Even after reading many a glowing review of their latest from writers I respect, I’m still struggling to see what the fuss is about. There are a few darkly magical moments (most of which can be credited to Mark of the Devil’s vocals), but ultimately this album is like a musty tomb already ransacked by explorers past. Nothing new can be discovered, and all that remains is a vague smell of mold and decay. This is a Halloween haunted house soundtrack that uses chants, cackles, and tribal rhythms in excess, and even after repeated listening, Henbane seems like a convincing execution of an irritating gimmick, at best.
“Idylls of the Chosen Damned” is a fairly strong opener, and some of the riffs are catchy and packed with heft. Still, it’s as though the moment Cultes Des Ghoules births forth something memorable, they dismember the creature with agonizing repetition. I won’t deny that each of the five tracks on Henbane are steeped in eerie Satanic ambiance, but the whole “mystical occult” trend that’s been casting a plethora of spells over music critics and underground metal fans recently hasn’t managed to ensnare me. I’m growing tired of bands sacrificing musicianship, well-crafted songwriting, goats, and virgins for the sake of atmosphere.
Henbane wouldn’t be quite so offensive to my ears if it weren’t for the production. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve heard an album that is so horribly compressed and chaotically distorted, and this record takes “lo-fi” to an entirely unnecessary level. Aspects of this coarse and cavernous production work well for the music, but the hysterics, spooky spells, and maniacal shrieks failed to raise even a single hair on the back of my neck. Despite its terrible title, “Vintage Black Magic” is a pretty great tune whose potential is stunted by – and I repeat – excessive repetition. Each song possesses some merit, but only the shortest piece, “Festival of Devotion,” manages to combine occult elements with black metal sensibility and depth. I can recognize how the album as a whole could be enjoyable in the right context, but I admittedly didn’t listen to it while ingesting psychedelics by candlelight. Henbane isn’t something to throw on and enjoy any time, it’s more of an album to get weirded out by when you’re stoned, after watching Suspiria. Then again, you could just listen to Goblin (who performed the score to that film). Henbane does have some cinematic quality, but suffers and struggles without visuals.
With horror metal from bands like Diabolical Masquerade or The Vision Bleak seamlessly combining vintage horror with heavy metal, and more experimental aural fright fests being offered by Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Sunn O))), I fail to see why this album would be deemed necessary listening in comparison. As far as Satanic black metal goes, there are also far better offerings available. Cultes des Ghoules certainly seem sincere, but their devotion to the Devil stirred no demons within me.