There’s something to be said for truth in advertising. Not only can album art give an idea of the music within, but sometimes the very title can hint at what’s to be expected. Polish black metal outfit Cultes des Ghoules aren’t even hinting at it with their latest release, Sinister, Or Treading The Darker Paths. The whole thing reeks of malicious intent, from the very first notes played to the closing wail of feedback at the end of the record. The cover art is disturbing as well—a withered, demonic hand menacingly grasping the hilt of a blood-soaked knife takes the forefront. A closer examination reveals its victim: a lifeless child, presumably whose ghost has been given to the bearer of the blade. Before the needle even drops on the record, it’s entirely clear what Cultes des Ghoules are trying to accomplish with their music.
With preparations out of the way, Cultes des Ghoules begin to tap into the menacing powers they have been summoning and unleash them on “The Woods Of Power.” After a brief atmospheric introduction, a full-on blast beat barrage strikes. However, the true power on this track is not in a noisy onslaught of aggression. When that riff kicks in, the full demonic might of the band unleashes itself on the senses. An energetic, almost panicked riffing over the bouncing d-beat calls back to the Darkthrone school of black metal circa Under A Funeral Moon; the secret is in the breakout. The blasts and tremolo riffing build tension across the track, charging it with negative energy that unleashes like a sinister “HADOUKEN!” across the speakers. At the center of it all, the vocals are called out by the mad master of ceremonies as the magic of the music swirls around him. The riff repeats and repeats without losing its charm, giving it plenty of time to sink its teeth in before returning to another blast verse to recharge. The band experiment with the riff a bit as the song progresses, and it fits just as well over rolling kicks and a deep groove style breakdown. The bridge gives a chance for the keys to shine through for a spell, and the haunting breaths of the organ keep atmosphere levels just right. An extended outro brings the song to a close as the vocals cry out an epic conclusion to the sermon on the glory of taking a life for power.
The ode to the primitive black metal of old continues on “Day Of Joy;” the Celtic Frost influence is undeniable, with Cultes des Ghoules providing their twist of extending the riffs to the point of worship. The namesake sinister atmosphere never relents, continuing through “The Serenity Of Nothingness,” a track that, like the album opener, pulls double duty of building up anticipation for the ensuing song while still being a fully-fleshed-out tune on its own. The rhythm section really gets to shine through towards the conclusion of the song, with a tribal rhythm played out on the toms and ambient bass playing providing backing while the vocals, half spoken-word and half chanted, continue their evil preaching.
The album closer, the oddly titled “Where The Rainbow Ends,” pulls out all the stops. At a whopping 13 minutes, the song gives the band a chance to play with a lot of different ideas, however it feels disjointed at times. The individual sections are on their own excellent, but instead of coming off as a conclusion to all of the building the band has done throughout the record, it feels like a bunch of leftover ideas patched together. It’s not enough to hurt the album too much overall, but it does feel a bit out of place. Luckily the final section works for a fitting conclusion to Sinister, it just could have been a smoother ride to get there.
With Sinister, Cultes des Ghoules manage to pull off one of the best songwriting tactics in all of metal: give you the riffs that you think you could just listen to over and over – and actually do it. The latest album holds well with the band’s legacy, and, despite a few hiccups at the end, has the riffs to keep fans of the original spirit of black metal coming back for more.