Greetings, Trav’lers, and welcome once again to another edition of Black, Raw, & Bleeding. This month, we seek wisdom of the metals most black not in the bleakness of the new moon, but in preparation for its counterpart: the full waxing of the nightly orb. This year, the lunarterial crescent reaches its most brilliant apex on All Hallows Eve for the first time since the year nineteen hundred and forty-four anno Domini and marking the second full moon of the month of October. Such a rare occurrence in the alignments of the principle celestial body that orbits the Earth does bring fruitful offerings to the most darkest of heavy metals, and on this, The Eve Of The Eve Of All Hallows, we set forth from the chime of the witching hour to uncover the eeriest, spookiest, most spine-chilling metals black from the deepest, darkest, blackest fathoms of the underground. Awaiting thee be lifeless landscapes, haunted castles of a forgotten age, tales of unfathomable beasts, abominations of all that is holy, wicked witchery of an iniquitous nature, visions from beyond the afterlife, and sinister magicks most foul, all exposed from their shadowy corners by the light of the Full Hunter’s Moon. So take heed, dearest Hunter, for sometimes those who hunt in darkness receive what it is they are seeking, and more…
Orkblut – Shadowmancer Of The Haunted Knolls
Belgium’s Medieval Prophecy Records is one of those labels that can always be trusted for, at the very least, some interesting curiosities in the forsaken kingdoms of ancient, stone-walled black metal. One of the more recent offerings in their chest of loot is a little debut demo cassette by fellow Belgians, Orkblut. The name certainly alludes to one of the greats of the more medieval-minded black metal bands, possibly taking inspiration from Abigor’s 1995 EP, Orkblut – The Retaliation. While comparisons certainly could be made to those earlier Abigor works, Orkblut have a few too many tricks up their cloaks to be simply falling victim to the label of a worship act.
The atmosphere of the intro chimes out like the last trickles of dusk, complete with the paranoia of watching eyes from the shadows of the darkened forest. The sound of running water, coupled with the crescendoing crackle of a toppling tree, opens up a clearing in the dense wood, revealing the ancient sorceries of Orkblut with “As Satan’s Spark In Breathless Night.” The opening riff definitely has a bit of the medieval pagan flair of Abigor, and it’s a spark that sets the sizzling flames of the drums alight. The drum production is surprisingly warm (the snare in particular) against the cold, greywashed grain of the guitar fuzz. As the bonfire of the drums roars in the backdrop, the song really gets cooking as a backing choir of undead let out a dismal moan that seems to become swallowed by the song itself in an eruption of energy behind the haze of atmosphere. The mood isn’t quite as aggressive or blistering as the band’s cognomen from Abigor; instead, Orkblut rely more on finding a groove in the driving kicks and the swing of the blast beats. Coupled with the pagan black metal elements (proper pagan black metal that keeps guitar as the primary driver of the melody, mind you, and not it’s folk-infused incarnation) are harsh vocals that sound like a chain-smoking aunt with strep throat (in the best way) that owe just as much of a nod to Graveland as Abigor.
“Ageless Sylvan Labyrinth” feels more in line with the medieval style, led by a victorious minor key riff. As it gives way to the verse, those blazing drums really ignite like wildfire, blasting with intensity and conviction. The abundance of snare fills are really, really leaning into frizzling bursts of energy, popping like chemical reactions from the gas trapped within burning timber catching flame. When the closing riff begins to get a touch repetitive, the percussion is there to force the energy ahead, ramming the point home instead of creating a feel of lazy or uninspired songwriting. The true test of Orkblut’s strength, however, is yet to come. The epic seven-minute closer of “Lugubre Call Over Misty Swamps” takes a particular shine to its namesake about a minute and a half in, as a truly dismal moan is uttered and the vocals double down on their raspy conviction as though realizing their true power in their undying calls into the murky wilderness. The backing choir of necrotic beings again adds an extra dash of spooky fuel, climaxing before the song erupts into a vicious groove before giving way to the final apex of the demo.
What Orkblut have done with Shadowmancer Of The Haunted Knolls is create a release that walks a lot of balance beams. It’s both medieval and pagan, fiercely percussive yet memorably melodic, and atmospheric but with enough detail to make an active listen a rewarding endeavor. And they do so all in a space that is both haunting and mystic. All the ingredients are blended well, concocting a potent potion for anyone searching for a snack-sized portion of primordial medieval black metal.
Black Door – Channeling Through Rectangular Windows
It was just supposed to be a brief walk in the woods to clear your head. Next thing you know, the sun began dropping behind the tree line. You turn around to head back, but between the trickery of the shadows and the rapidly diminishing sunlight, you get turned around. You no longer recognize the woods around you. It gets dark, fast. As the chill of the night creeps in, the moon rises, only to be blocked by clouds. Wolves howl in the distance. You need shelter, and quickly. Luckily, you come across an old, abandoned cabin. There are no roads, no lights, just a cabin in the middle of the wilderness. The door is locked, or broken, refusing to budge, so you crawl through the rectangular window on the side of the house.
You are never heard from again.
Years later, some hikers come across the cabin in the daytime. The door opens easily, and the hikers find but a pair of hand dubbed cassette tapes in the middle of the single room of the cabin. They take them home and play them.
The first side of the first tape, labeled Act I – Haunting, hits with a very murky barrage of raw black metal. “Hey, this sounds kind of like Black Cilice!” one of the long-haired hikers declares. He’s not wrong, this particular work found on the Channeling Through Rectangular Windows compilation is indecipherable when trying to break it down, but collectively creates this haunted spookiness. And while it’s not all atmosphere – a few primitive breakout riffs pop up for added impact in the haziness – but for the most part it relies fully on creating this foggy aura of spectral conveyance. The hikers flip the tape.
The second side, labelled Act II: Deprivation opens with an instrumental number that’s reminiscent of the minimalist black metal tracks of Forest. No drums, just the swirling of distorted, static-drenched guitar. The first proper song hits with a lot more bite than the previous side of the cassette. It’s a bit more sharp around the edges, and feels much darker. The “Deprivation” tag is apt, this side of the tape screams with anguish beneath the woeful barrage of melody sketched out of the noise. The drums are barely audible, more felt as though a spirit banging on the edges of our dimension. The vocals are harsher and more manipulated, there’s just a touch of Leviathan influence in just how fucked-up they sound. Deprivation is certainly a more aggressive, though no less haunting, addition to the compilation, yet somehow conveys all this while relying even more on atmosphere than its predecessor.
The first side of the second tape, Act III: Amon-Ra, throws a bit of an outlier into the compilation. Firstly, it’s named after the ancient Egyptian supreme god of creation, and secondly, it opens with a dungeon synth track. The black metal feels more of an amalgamation between the two styles on Haunting and Deprivation. There’s still the static bite of Deprivation, but the vibe is much more mystical and eerie as is Haunting. It’s a lot more repetitive than either, inducing a trancelike state that makes the subtle key changes beneath the din more shrouded and insidious.
Act IV: Burial Crypt Under The Abandoned House, Looming Visions Of Afterlife, the final side of the final cassette, opens with a slower, doomy pace accompanied by the ominous piano melody atop the simmering pace of black metal. The vocals seem even further away, as though the spirits captured on the tape are drifting further and further from the land of the living. The only change in the dirge of death is the activity of the drums, shifting across the song from the slow, plodding pace, to a mid-tempo driving rhythm, to a bit of disjointed blasting before returning to the slower pace. The following track returns to the atmospheric blasting, with the wash of guitar creating chilling, necrotic, haunted winds. The sorrowing gusts wail as tortured spirits longing for another chance of life or to complete unfinished business in the mortal coil. Throughout this installment, the melancholy really bleeds through, making it a highlight of Black Door’s suite of releases. All are very ambient in nature, but serve their purpose well in creating mournful, soul-stirring tapestries to inspire ghost stories and mysterious hauntings. Perfect for the Eve of All Hallows.
Cassette available via The Throat
Tok Yathraa – Chapter: Manananggal
The Manananggal translates from the Tagalog word tanggal to “one who separates,” referring to a vampiric creature found in Singaporean lore that often presents as a bloodthirsty winged female figure with an unquenchable bloodthirst, preying largely on sleeping pregnant women. Utilizing its straw-like tongue, the Manananggal is said to suck the hearts of fetuses or blood from the mother whilst she slumbers. What an underutilized creature in horror!
Luckily, one-man Singaporean black metal act Tok Yathraa has been kind enough to give this creature a bit more attention with his mini concept album on the topic. Playing something of a first-wave style of black metal, Tok Yathraa tap heavily into the Death SS approach to horror, capturing all the camp of the Italian classics (referring both towards film and heavy metal) in a way that translates directly to the their sound. It has that classic, traditional riff-laden style of Mercyful Fate, albeit a bit grittier and more primitive. Thematically, they draw heavily from the darker mythology of their homeland, having covered both ghastly beings of Kuntilanak and Pocong in prior releases. The intro to “The One Who Separates” lays out the basic mythology of the Manananggal with a well-placed sound byte before the chunk of the bass starts creeping in. The guitars burst out with a crude take on the eerie Shermann/Denner note selection. While the vocals do, in a weird way, pattern King Diamond’s pacing and storytelling, they will be the first thing that will turn new listeners away from Tok Yathraa with their gritting, alien tone and metallic, echoing clang. However, when the song settles a bit, the reptilian scratching of the vocals find a home; they are abrasive, but against all premonition, work in some bizarre way.
The production is obviously a homebrew concoction, with the drums sounding more digital than the device you’re probably reading this on. But the guitar tones are warm and delectably chunky, and the instruments clear. The strange mixing actually adds to the exotic feel of Chapter: Manananggal. It’s raw and crude, but still feeling full and inviting with plenty of bite behind it. Neat little tricks make the most of the recording environment, such as the clever panning of the twin guitars on the conclusion of “She’s A Ruthless Creature.” Both axes are wielded loosely with feeling on totally separate takes, yet weave so well together in the final product. The muted nah-nah-nah’s of the vocals drive the melody home, a tactic that is re-envisioned on the following track. “Manananggal” utilizes similar backing vocals in a haunting “waa-ooh” before giving way to a surprisingly catchy chorus that shows just a hair more of the Mercyful Fate influence. By the screaming, fadeaway outro of the thrashier fourth and final track “Death Of Mananangal,” Tok Yathraa has certainly made a memorable impression while hinting a little more about the mortal weakness of the monster from their homeland. For as crude and haphazard as this mid-paced rocker of a horror metal album is, it’s surprisingly fun and enjoyable in the spookiest way, while simultaneously providing a glimpse into the dark fables of a culture with much to offer, both in horror and in heavy metal.
Void Prayer – The Grandiose Return To The Void
The Black Plague Circle based out of Bosnia and Herzegovina is no stranger here at Black, Raw, & Bleeding, in fact, they are one of the more prominent circles worth keeping a keen eye on in modern underground black metal. (Just check the piece on Obskuritatem in the prior edition of this column). Typically characterized by raw production values, a grasp of utilizing dissonance in harmony in euphonious conspiracy with melody (as opposed to simply for the sake of dissonance), and a deceptive knack for layering their soundscapes, the Black Plague Circle always delivers a bit more than what lies on the surface level.
Yet the latest output, the sophomore album of four members of this Black Plague Circle, is a bit more immediate in its payoffs. The cleaning up of the production holds much of the responsibility in this aspect–the multitude of layers are no longer hidden behind a crackling haze. While the vocals still feel as though they are necrotic spells of misanthropic hatred cast from the deepest, darkest corners of an ancient cavern, the melodies are much more highlighted–even when, as is the case with the pinch-harmonic squeals of “N N N,” they are being at their most jarring and abrasive. Yet, in the same song, the lead work provides the strongest sense of melody with the descending riff on the chorus. The leads on The Grandiose Return To The Void are surprisingly dominant, taking further highlights with solos such as the fantastical conclusion to “L’appel du vide.”
The fluidity of the rhythm department really gets to stretch its legs at the concluding title track. Mirroring a sort of spooky music box melody, “The Grandiose Return To The Void” plays off this deathly lullaby, with the vocals pushing out from the deepest corners of despair as the instruments build to this epic climax of the record. The waltzing rhythm just drives it on home, further solidifying both Void Prayer and The Black Plague Circle as one of the premier black metal circles in operation today.
Crépuscule d’Hiver – Par-Delà Noireglaces et Brumes-Sinistres
For those who have been keeping score at home, you’ll already know several of us here at Last Rites are fans of anything castle-related. Keeps, battlements, baileys, moats, portcullises, towers, turrets, drawbridges, and dungeons–believe me, we’re here for it. So when any album comes along promising to sweep us off our feet and away to a mythical, majestic citadel, we’re there – ready to take up arms in some ancient conflict behind walls of fortified stone.
What better country to promise such a worthwhile journey via the medium of black metal than France. With bands such as Darkenhöld, Aorlhac, and Véhémence all leading the charge of medieval black metal in the contemporary age, France has held the style under siege for quite some time. However, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté’s Crépuscule d’Hiver take a different tack in their approach, relying more on Summoning-esque atmospherics and grandeur to portray their take on epic medieval black metal. The mastermind of the project, an individual known as Stuurm, has breathed a certain life into Crépuscule d’Hiver’s Par-delà noireglaces et brumes-sinistres for quite the opus of a debut.
The opener sets the mood with a full dungeon synth intro. Clashes of cymbals and chimes of bells accentuate the folk melodies of yesteryear, transporting us to the era. The place is set with the following track, “Le Sang Sur Ma Lame” (translating to “Blood On My Blade”). Emerging from the intro, we’re finally greeted with a bit of guitar before the song drops into an enthusiastic blast. The horns cry out with the regality of pomp-and-circumstance; surely we are in the presence of ancient royalty! Yet the black metal side adds a certain melancholic agony as the song opens up. The halls of this castle are haunted by the stale, cold winds of death. The tremolo picking flits about like the mournful spirits in the chambers of the keep, adding a chilling spookiness to the composition and keeping the focus balanced between the black metal and orchestral grandeur and dungeon synth elements. The marching pulse that the drums find calls back to great battles fought at the gates of the outer walls–so many bits of the grand portrait Crépuscule d’Hiver are painting seem to occur simultaneously, as though the ghosts of the past are all lamenting their venerable tales to this visitor from the land of the present and the living.
One of the highlight features of the album is not just the masterful, cinematic songwriting of Stuurm, but the talent recruited to help bring his nostalgic fantasy into the auditory reality. Holding down the rhythm section is N.K.L.S. of In Cauda Venenum–subtle but not subdued, the bass plays lightly in the shadows on tracks like “Le Souffle De La Guerre.” The drums add splashes of flavor without stepping too far out of line; they’re played as more than just a repetitive, inhuman timekeeper but work in total service of the songs. The real secret weapon, however, is including vocalist Hexēnn on “Le Sang Sur Ma Lame,” “Tyran De La Tour Immaculée,” and the sprawling closer of the title track. Both when in the forefront as a vocal soloist and when providing angelic backing choirs, her voice adds a particularly memorable dash of magic to Par-delà noireglaces et brumes-sinistres. And while the closer, in proper fashion, plays out like Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings with several layers of ending, it leaves the listener grateful for each bit of continued music. This is ancient, epic black metal of the highest calibre, and perhaps the finest debut of the style since Caladan Brood’s 2013 masterpiece, Echoes Of Battle.
Onirik – The Fire Cult Beyond Eternity
There’s no doubt that there’s a magic in music–that ability to penetrate what lies beyond the constraints of spoken language and the shackles of the written word is something that emotionally transcends our total understanding. Lisbon, Portugal’s Onirik has a knack for creating this magic that transfuses from the ears to the brain in the form of their particularly odd brand of progressive black metal. What’s more is the ability to transform sound before the very ears of the listener, constructing hidden, intricate, mythical, and at times otherworldly melodies.
The magic of The Fire Cult Beyond Eternity lies in Onirik essentially sketching out the idea of a song and crafting it into something much greater than its sum as it progresses forward. Take album opener “Cult Beyond Eternity,” for example. Impatient listeners, or those with a weaker disposition in the adventurous listening department, will probably be quick to turn this album away. The onslaught of disjointed playing and strangely angled riffs under what is essentially a spat-out babble of vocals looms at what could be a very challenging listen, to say the very least. While it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the transformation takes place (this slight-of-hand being a key part to the magic of Onirik), the song slowly comes together with a coherent melody over the transcendental hum of a choir, bending at the whim of their occult master.
Furthermore, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where Onirik is drawing inspiration from. There’s a few nods here and there – definitely bits of Voivod-esque Piggy riffing can be found – yet the tempo mostly remains fairly relaxed, allowing the music to swirl and wash across the mind of the listener like waves of infinity in some realm far beyond. Even when the blasts come in, such as on “Trapped In Flesh, Blood And Dirt,” they still sit back on the beat a bit, allowing themselves to build to a crest of what is uniquely and unequivocally Onirik.
It seems no matter how disjointed or angular the music starts, it always ends up drifting together, as flames growing together into a brilliant blaze. “Melodies Of Reflection And Praise” starts with a scrappy little bit of lead work and a contrasting bit of wandering bass over a fairly straightforward pulse of drums. The music pauses, corrects course, and resumes; there are so many subtle underlying factors at play here that it really does appear to be magic when the song comes together, then moves forward as a unit, crescendoing and peaking as the instruments intertwine with one another. Onirik’s spooky ability to deliver such preternatural development in-song sells The Fire Cult Beyond Eternity as quite the masterwork of progressive occult black metal. Succumb to the flames, and be swept away on a journey beyond.
Lamp Of Murmuur – Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism
An alumnus of the very first edition of Black, Raw, & Bleeding, Olympia, Washington’s Lamp Of Murmuur has been quite busy making a name in raw black metal circles since their debut demo, Thunder Vigil And Ecstasy. Releasing three more demos, an EP, and a split with Revenant Marquis, Lamp Of Murmuur has since been gaining quite a bit of traction, leading to more than a modicum of hype surrounding their first proper full-length album, Heir Of Ecliptical Romanticism.
While each step made by Lamp Of Murmuur seemed to be testing the waters, looking for a style, every release was notable in its own right. Yet on The Burning Spears Of Crimson Agony, released in just March of this year, the band seemed to hit a certain energetic veracity that would come to be expected from the album. And it carried over. Heir Of Ecliptical Romanticism hits the ground running with “Of Infernal Passion And Aberrations,” with its swarming locust of blistering guitar fuzz that takes form as the song opens up out of the sweltering introductory blasts. Light atmospheric synths build tension as subtle symphonics accentuate the downstrokes of the guitar–and then it hits. That first meaty riff just exudes a sinister evil, that same aggressive feeling you get from hearing “The Imperial March” or “Stellar Master Elite” for the first time. In fact, there’s a little more than a passing resemblance to the guitar tone and approach to riff construction of Snorre Ruch. While Lamp is a far call from a Thorns tribute, the influence of Trøndertun and Thorns (albeit, sans the industrial elements) is certainly felt, both in the swirling, chaotic mass of the blast sections and the sinister, palm muted march of the main riff.
Heir Of Ecliptical Romanticism is packed with a megalith of an opening half of two songs in the vicinity of ten minutes each, coupled with an appropriately spooky piano interlude to mark the flip of the record. While two ten-minute tracks of raw, aggressive black metal may be daunting, Lamp Of Murmuur manages to make each bit of time count. The songs never sit still or fall victim to wallowing for too long in one area or drifting too far from the focus. The energy just drives the songs forward and cuts the perception of the time in half.
On the B-side, the songs take on a somewhat more sensible duration, but the run-on energy built up in the first half takes few, if any, dips. “The Scent Of Torture, Conquering All” fires off out of cannon into some driving, blistering blasts that give way to what is 1000% some Vlad Tepes worship–and the offering Lamp Of Murmuur is sacrificing on the altar of the masters of raw black metal is quite worthy, indeed. Even the one-two beat bounce is given reverence as it pulses the song forward, further down the spirals of tortured despair and nihilistic fury. Not only can the band build this raging, aggressively bleak atmosphere, but they also understand the key to black metal and what so many Darkthrone would-be’s often miss: the breakout riff. Sure, bands have made entire careers out of endless blasts ‘n’ tremolos, essentially perverting the original purpose into something new, but nothing beats the impact of a blast dropping into a nasty little riff. Not only is this found across the album, but Lamp even manage to flip it on “Chalice Of Oniric Perversions.” The way the blasts fade a chugging, lurking d-beat into a fully running kick section only to build back up to the triumphant blaze of the tremolo main riff has the power to rip the soul in twain.
While the blitzkrieg of energy to be found on Heir Of Ecliptical Romanticism was mentioned previously as nearly unrelenting, it does slow down for the finale of the album. The awesomely titled “The Stars Caress Me As My Flesh Becomes One With The Eternal Night” hits a more sorrowful mid-pace stride, with the synths taking more spotlight than the mere atmospheric duties of their predecessors. The result is a more celestial, cerebral experience that peaks with the clean vocals that add a sense of grandeur to the conclusion as the music drifts off into the infinite void.
That is, unless you got the digital edition, which included a Dead Can Dance cover that is both unexpected yet entirely appropriate. Heir lives up to the majority of its hype, it’s an excellent slab of raw black flesh that solidifies Lamp Of Murmuur as one of the most exciting, if not reverent, raw black metal acts operating within the U.S.
Mäleficentt – Night Of Eternal Darkness
Though it can be an excellent way of communicating the stylistic choices of a given artist, there is a trap to comparing artists to those who came before. Of course its difficult to apply to bands that easily break genre boundaries (name ONE artist that you could compare to, say, Oranssi Pazuzu). However, even in the strictest, most rigid definitions of a genre, sometimes there’s a loss for specific comparison points.
Take, for instance, California’s Mäleficentt. The one-man black metal project has been kicking around in some form or another since 2008. Through a name change and a fairly inconsistent release schedule early on, the band has been amping up activities over the past three years, releasing two demos, two compilations, and now two full-length albums. Night Of Eternal Darkness marks the latest offering, and from the instrumental opener of “March Of The Circle Of Shadows,” it’s clear Mäleficentt is playing good, old fashioned black metal of a somewhat rawer, organic, homegrown bent. The bounce and shuffle of the drums is reminiscent of Thousand Swords-era Graveland, but the melodies and tone choices are a bit more informed by post-second wave Scandinavian acts such as Taake. So while these elements could be used to describe the sounds being heard, neither feel quite right in attempting to categorize Mäleficentt. Not that that is important, because what Mäleficentt is bringing to the table on the introductory track is certain to catch the ears of anyone with a palette for melodic, mysterious metal of darkness.
The first proper track following the introduction, “Before The Sun Dies,” drops straight into a melancholic-yet-furious blast that captures what is almost a Judas Iscariot vibe, but again, that doesn’t feel quite right. Perhaps it’s the vocal delivery, more a distant, shouted dryness than the gravelly, throaty delivery of Akhenaten. Those shrieks, in addition to the swirling, complementary tremolo riffs feel reminiscent of early Sargeist, but again, that doesn’t quite feel like a proper descriptor in the way it would for a contemporary band such as Nimbifer. The intensity of the guitars only further increases on “The Light’s Last Grasp,” building tension with a frenzy of blasts before giving way to a galloping one-two beat. The melodies flicker and dart like a dying candle in a cold gust of wind, hanging onto the tempo as desperately as a flame to wick. Subtle choirs can be heard beneath the forefront of the music, adding an eerie, spooky factor as well as contributing to the fullness of the production.
Night Of Eternal Darkness is, at this point, already kicking up some serious heat, but the following two tracks certainly mark highlights of the album. “Veiled In Gloom” resonates with a feeling of growing anguish and desolate misery rarely captured in such a way outside of Hvis lysett tar oss–but again, aside from the obvious connection most bands of the style have to Burzum, the analogy isn’t quite right on its own. The builds are much more immediate, which compliments the flow of the album as well as Mäleficentt’s writing style. Perhaps that’s what works so well in their favor on their sophomore effort: The songs feel natural, as though they were burning for release at the core of the individual composing and performing them. While certain tricks and songwriting strategies certainly come across, they seem more the result of a well-listened ear than a direct attempt to copy those who came before. It feels black and raw in its composure, bleeding with honesty and passion: exactly the sort of thing this feature was created to find.
Medieval Demon – Arcadian Witchcraft
Of the somewhat lesser-known bands spawning from the original Greek black metal scene of the 90s, Medieval Demon has always shown potential to be way more than they’re given credit for. Though they formed way back in 1993, their debut album, Demonolatria, wasn’t released until 1998, well after their fellow countrymen began pushing the black metal style of the country into the mainstream. Retaining the classic Greek mid-tempo riffing, with perhaps a bit of the more visceral brutality and light keyboards for atmosphere of the salad days of the scene, Medieval Demon not only held fast to the elements that made Thy Mighty Contract or His Majesty At The Swamp such staples in the defining of Hellenic black metal, but doubled down on them. While Demonolatria was a bit more primitive, when the band returned exactly 20 years later with 2018’s Medieval Necromancy, they had stepped up and refined those elements with the benefit of retrospect, capturing the more mighty, bombastic elements of the Hellenic scene. Very rarely in heavy metal does a band return from dormancy to match their previous output, yet with Medieval Demon they just seem to be getting better since they were revived from beyond the grave.
Arcadian Witchcraft feels like the album that finally lives up to the potential Medieval Demon have shown since their incarnation. From the opening track, “Meet Her Majesty, The Black Queen,” it’s clear that the band have upped their game in the lead guitar department. Bursting out of the marching snare and timpani (one of the touches that made Medieval Necromancy so grand), the guitar just wails over the plunking, weighted strings of the bass. The organs lay out a melody that the tremolo guitar picking will follow leading into the verse–every element here is so intricately woven in what is simply a brilliant display of songwriting. The vocals call out like a sinister dark wizard in the southeastern most tower of a castle, summoning the main meat of the song. The intro almost feels like a false lead that drops the listener into a rifftastic mid-pace, laden with a Phrygian melody. The lead guitar has gotten an off-the-charts upgrade for Medieval Demon, ripping solos out of nowhere and carrying the melody of the songs in tandem with the carefully sculpted keys. The vocal layering is fantastic, with unholy chanting adding an extra slab of majesty to the atmosphere.
While the album starts with a bang, it somehow only gets better. “Mundus Est Diaboli” starts with a bit of elevating palm-mutes over an angelic choir that gets an additional punch as the song kicks in. That goddamn timpani hits at just the right moments to up the bombastic features of the intro. The blasphemous incantations of the vocals seem to summon a further urgency to the track before it falls again to palm mutes, accentuated by more timpani and particularly spooky key chimes. Those signature Greek pinch harmonics make an appearance for even more umph. It’s not just all the elements, but the way they are woven into the songwriting that make the curse hit full fruition–and continues to do so for the duration of Arcadian Witchcraft. As someone who has been keeping up with this band for some time, it finally feels like they have released the album that hits their full potential. This is a classic Hellenic black metal album not only for the modern age, but a standout in a scene full of greatness.