Craven Idol – Forked Tongues Review

[album art by Eliran Kantor]

It is always nice to be reminded that even in a thumbnail world, album art matters and can still elicit strong reactions. Chances are pretty good that metalheads, in general, tend to pay a bit more attention to cover art than many other fans, but it is still all too easy to scroll through playlists, Bandcamp feeds and social media posts without ever taking a real look at the art adorning the albums you so love. Hell, even Eliran Kantor’s work has so proliferated the scene that you’ve probably scrolled right by several of his pieces without a second thought (and rightfully so on the occasions meatheads slap a huge ugly logo over the main work). Not with this one, friends, not with this one!

Release date: July 23, 2021. Label: Dark Descent Records.
Even as a tiny blip on the screen, the bright pop of orange at the center of the volcano and the swirling action exploding forth from above it just begs to get the two-finger tap-and-spread for a closer view. That magnified exploration yields a thunder of dragons picking a fight with a chariot-driving god flying down from the sky; perhaps to punish the blurry-lined peasants below who are barely escaping the lava flows surrounding them. Kantor’s piece at once feels like something you’d see in a classical art museum and something you would see painted on the side of a van outside of a Judas Priest concert. I had barely heard of Craven Idol before seeing announcements about Forked Tongues, but I knew I was going to check them out when I saw that cover art and I’m sure glad I did because they too blend elements of metal’s thrash and black classics with an explosively modern approach that matches those fierce dragons.

Bands have been trying to effectively blend thrash with black metal for quite a long time with a majority of the results being middling at best. Craven Idol, however, so perfectly blends the two together that they whip up pure hellfire replete with charismatic charm. They primarily operate in the tempo of fast to faster but know when to pull back or change things up to keep your ears from rattling into dust.

The opening track “Venomous Rites” offers all these elements in spades. It fires off with lightning-kissed tremolos that wail and flail at maddening speeds while the second guitar dances around or behind it to add extra color to the song. The lead late in the song does the same by flying in and out of the main rhythm like bolts being thrown between the combatants at the top of the cover art. You’ll recall I said it offered charm as well, so look no further than the 1:45 mark when thunderstorm sounds boom into the song just as a Tom Araya high belter is unleashed and descends into an over-the-top villainous laugh. The vocals throughout spit with thrash pacing, but come with a classic black metal bite.

If you thought that opening track was blistering, you better hold onto your butt because “Iron Age” comes in two tracks later and finds an extra gear. It starts with a patented thrash kick pattern that feels like a countdown and then the song turns into the Flash throwing 100 guitar punches a second. At this point, the band wisely pulls back a bit with “Even the Demons.” The riffs aren’t necessarily much slower, but the drums reign in the blasts more regularly to allow the song to hit with more power than speed. Plus, it features a repeated and catchy shout-along part. The title track brings the Blitzkrieg back but isn’t afraid to change it up midway through when the song drops into a simpler chug with cymbals crashing from ear to ear. Then it pulls out a vocal passage of Max Cavalera style “oough…Ahhh” grunts over a bouncy Roots riff before slicing tremolos start bleeding back into the mix to once again kick things up.

The final two tracks of Forked Tongues are where things may get a bit more perilous for some listeners as they both run past nine minutes in length. Throughout its runtime, “Deify the Stormgod” wields flailing drums, biting feedback, a delightful touch of groove to the rhythm guitars, moments of layered clean vocals and even some echoey ones that sound like someone giving a speech at a massive rally. What really helps this song stand out is the use of more open space that permits it to feel much bigger and grandiose as opposed to the more claustrophobic speed-battering the rest of the album utilizes. The music also regularly builds on itself and stretches to help the lengthier runtime feel justified. Album closer “The Gods Have Left Us For Dead” hews closest to being straightforward black metal. It opens with some monk-style chants and a slower moody intro that feels more like it was inspired by Wolves In The Throne Room than the fire-laced black elements that came before it. The thrashing speed still rears its head, but the final minutes of the songs are a repeated section backed by slight variations on drumming and subtle extra elements to provide some semblance of building up before fading out. This closer is a solid song, but having it immediately follow another nine-minute song could lead some listeners’ attention to wander during those last few moments.

Both Craven Idol and Kantor opted to put their own modern twists on classic inspirations for this album (Greek Mythology and a Japanese piece called “The Dragon of Smoke Escaping From Mount Fuji” respectively). They both also happen to have done so with aplomb and that applies to the music Craven Idol has created as well. You can hear the influence of their forebears seamlessly blended into this 41-minute spitfire of modern metal madness. Where they came from is apparent, but where they are is all their own and it’s well worth it to meet them there.

Posted by Spencer Hotz

Admirer of the weird, the bizarre and the heavy, but so are you. Why else would you be here?

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