It’s amazing how Cult of Fire have gone, in just a few years (they were formed in 2010), from a small underground Black Metal band who’s main attractive seemed to be the fact that the line-up was made of ex-Maniac Butcher members, a band I never was interested in (although if we speak of Mr. Tomáš Corn other band, Lykathea Aflame, then things get a lot more interesting), to an entity with real (musical and lyrical) personality, as well as one of those bands who have invested a lot of effort into taking things to a new level in terms of theatrics on stage next to other now very well known names in the genre.
After a self-released 10»EP in 2010, they released, in the two following years, two full-length albums which I would describe as simply majestic. Despite the differences between both of them, we could say they take us back to the times when atmosphere, melody and orchestral influences in Black Metal didn’t directly end up in cheesiness or bad taste. But, honestly, I didn't really like their following 7"EP from 2014 dedicated to Czech composer Bedřich Smetana, which sounded quite more Post-Rock oriented to my ears (although I promised myself to revisit it at some point and get a second opinion). So I was wondering if that would be the path they would be following on their next releases (and kind of expected it wouldn't, to be honest).
Back to this dying year, in the past month of September they announced a new mini album which would be available at their show during Prague Death Mass III, a festival organised by the members of Cult of Fire, whose physical release (managed by the band’s own label too) was presented on an amazing picture LP shaped with the form of a lotus and packaged in a lotus shaped sleeve too, again designed by Teitan Arts in a very similar way to their previous record artwork, only that this time the figure represented on the cover is not Kali but Chinnamasta. And both the cover and the inner sleeve look amazing, with a lot of details and symbols all over which you can be looking at for a while and which look quite unique in comparison to a lot of other bands artworks. I can’t praise enough the work Teitan Arts has done here (and both on past Cult of Fire and Death Karma releases, specially on ‘The History of Death & Burial Rituals Part I’, which is beyond amazing).
When I first played 'Life, Sex and Death' I was quite happy to discover they had gone back to something closer to the sound of ‘Ascetic Meditation of Death’, with that highly melodic and enveloping atmospheric Black Metal combining fast Northern influenced tremolo parts with more open and meditating ambiances as well as some more experimental influences, all in all still imbued with an Eastern European (necromantic) feeling. They actually create a bombastic effect since the very first moment with the great opening track “Life”, which might be amongst their best compositions to date, and which also takes back memories from when I discovered their debut, ‘Triumvirát’. This song starts with a grandiose quite simple mid-paced part which ends on an acoustic guitar passage only to become even greater thanks to martial percussion and a beautiful melody and then exploding into a more aggressive and fast cavalcade. Pure Cult of Fire, only better and even more accurate.
This is followed by “Chinnamasta Mantra”, a female recited mantra on a way less extreme and very ambient/new age and also oriental inspired track that is the exact contraposition to “Life”, calm, beautiful and quite luminous, very trance inducing (I would actually love seeing them explore this kind of composition a bit more on a next recording), and thus creating the perfect bridge (before turning the vinyl upside down) for the continuation with “Death”.
This one is a very straightforward track which directly starts with a fast and melodic part over which Mr. Devilish’s vocals sound absolutely possessed. If their guitar lines and keyboards are not good enough, when more mid-paced parts appear you can here a sitar creating one more layer of on their already very rich sound and giving it that special oriental touch that makes it so special and tying it so well with their lyrics. The song ends with an ever faster and more aggressive part, with Tomáš his powerful drumming.
They close the record with “Tantric Sex”, another calmer and more experimental track with sitar and clean guitar opening it over which clean vocals recite some other mantra and suddenly changing into a more Post-Rock oriented track which could very well remind of Godspeed You Black Emperor! or even Sigur Rós, but adding to it blastbeats to drive it towards the end of this release. It’s definitely not the most original thing they’ve done, it’s actually a bit clichéd, but it still serves its purpose in the context of ‘Life, Sex & Death’, closing it in a beautiful and intense manner and still keeping the essence and overall ambiance of this release.
So yes, this is not an EP they’ve just released to get some money while they prepare their next album nor something only for their most die-hard fans and collectors. Don’t be mislead by the impressive presentation. There’s great and mandatory Cult of Fire songs in here, which are very well connected to serve the global concept, and they are again presented under a great sound production as already happened (specially) on their previous album. I like the way they keep a slight chaotic and raw feeling no matter how clean and well recorded and mix they songs are. It possesses the magic but doesn’t end up in a mess, quite the opposite actually.
If you missed the vinyl version, there's a tape version which was just released by Triangulum Ignis, again with a fabulous presentation. Whatever the format, get it if you were already captured by these Czech's sound, you won't regret it.
The apparition of Head of the Demon in 2012, with their self-titled debut album, was a real joy after witnessing the demise of Kaamos, the band which (next to Repugnant) lighted the resurgence of Death Metal in the first decade of the XXI century. I perfectly remember seeing them at Party San 2006 (what was supposed to be their last show ever, although later they did a few more if I’m not wrong) and thinking how could a band with their potential and position at that time call it quits, which they actually confirmed with their posthumous EP ‘Scales of Leviathan’.
But let’s focus again on the band I mean to speak about, jump in time six years later and mention, just in case someone still does not know the relation between both bands, that Head of the Demon was formed by two ex-Kaamos (and A Mind Confused) members, Konstantin Papavassiliou (guitars, who I remember playing live with Dead Congregation too at some point if my memory serves well) and Thomas Åberg; and start by saying their first album didn’t leave my car stereo for a while back when it came out, in 2012. Their blend of old-schooled Black Metal and Doom completely captivated me, on one side because it sounded like nothing else I could think of in the current Black Metal scene, and on the other because it reeked of old cults from the nineties without the need of being one more band in the always growing army of clones.
So, when Invictus announced the release of ‘Sathanas Trimesgistos’ I knew I had to grab this LP as soon as it would be out, with no need to listen to any advance track. However, such was my impatience that I finally ended up listening to their label’s bandcamp digital version a lot of times before getting the piece of wax. And I was both surprised and amazed by what I found in this second album of the Swedes. Surprised because there’s a big step from their first album, even if this is a perfect continuation to ‘Head of the Demon’. And amazed because, since the very first listen it was clear to me that this was going to be a great album, even if it required a few proper listens before it properly clicked.
One of the things I like a lot about ‘Sathanas Trismegistos’ since the very first listen though, and probably what has most clearly got stuck in my head from this record, what definitely captured my attention in mind and soul towards it with every new listening, is the fact that it sounds so archaic and it flows in such a magical and ethereal way. And this is partially due to the fact that one of the big changes of this record comes from the way they managed to sound; the guitars and the bass are far from the traditionally highly distorted, usually more on the high end of frequencies, kind of sound one expects on a Black Metal record.
It’s quite the opposite here, as distortion is very (very) subtle, and mostly present when they let some power chords free, while on the more dynamically mid-paced driven progressions they sound warm and very clean, especially the bass, who takes a very leading role along all the records. That, and I should also mention a quite remarkable amount of reverb, which helps making notes float for a while. So it was not a surprise when I started digging into the album recording information and discovered it had been recorded live in studio (Top Sound Studio, where they mixed and mastered it too), except for the vocals, which were done at Gehinnom Studio. And I say it’s no surprise because you can feel how the whole band gathers as a unit due to how naturally everything evolves.
Although the production is not the only reason for such an ethereal sound. Their new songs are way more laid back and atmospheric, in a Doomy/Prog or “Occult Rock” kind of way without leaving the proper Black Metal spectrum, with an amazing rhythm section, especially if we look at Thomas work on the drums combining slow and simple patterns with other much more complex and dynamic progressions, which I simply love. Vocals are treated in a very personal way too, because of the use of a lot of reverb, creating the effect that there’s different voices at once, and second because in most of the songs they repeat lyrics a lot, forcing the listener to end up singing them in a trace-like manner (which I found myself doing, especially on “Nox Est Lux” and “L.L.L.”).
We could definitely draw some lines between Head of the Demon and both old bands, such as Black Sabbath, Celtic Frost or Mercyful Fate, and newer ones such as Negative Plane/Occultation or Saturnalia Temple (with whom Konstantin played on ‘Ur’), because of the gloomy and kind of theatrical ambiances they induce. I could think about old Samael or Mortuary Drape too for some reason. It might be the occult feeling and maybe even the vocals, even if Saibot uses a quite cleaner tone than Vorphalack. But these Swedes sound way slower and less aggressive, and in some way they retain a pretty personal essence. It might be closeness to a more proto-metallic sound, the way they build quite repetitive and monotonous songs which surprisingly end up being deeply progressive and atmospheric, or simply that their songs do not retain the impression that they only listened to Black Metal.
If all this wasn’t enough yet, I will finally add that the record is very well presented, with a cover reproducing Cornelis Galle “Lucifer” (with the addition of the album title in a way it simply looks like it always had been there) plus some extra artwork from Mr. Timo Ketola (the devil wings on the backcover), Thomas Karlsson (the Lucifer drawing on the insert sheet) and Michael Idehall on some additional art.
Hail Sathanas Trismegistos. Hail Head of the Demon. Hail this impressive album.
It's already been ten years since Antaeus last album, 'Blood Libels' (and nine since their split 7"EP with Katharsis). In the meantime, there was the unfortunate death of LSK in 2013, MkM focusing on Aosoth and releasing a few amazing recordings ('III' is still one of the most interesting Black Metal records of the last decade), and recently releasing the great Mardröd EP too. I'm not too sure of what happened on Set's side though, but I think he didn't do much on the musical level during this time. Although the band has been playing live from time to time (with some new session members, I think VI and BST were involved for example), and they actually released just two years ago (via World Terror Committee) a live album of their set at the Wolf Throne fest 2013. And then suddenly around one month ago Norma Evangelium Diaboli announced a new album, which was absolutely unexpected.
Well, having followed Antaeus since their first album, and given the fact that I thought I would never listen to a new Antaeus recording again, I must admit my expectations for 'Condemnation' were quite high. I obviously didn't think they would come back with a bad album, cause I consider them people with good taste and absolute devotion for the genre, but you know, I was still hesitant on what I would find on this record, especially after such a beast as its predecessor was.
No matter how, I pre-ordered it on Noevida's site and impatiently waited until it finally appeared in my mailbox. Once I received it, the first thing standing out was the artwork, this time managed by Metaztasis. I must say I'm not fond of everything he has done (it depends a bit on the case and I don't like all those covers looking so similar), but in this one I really like both the idea of the broken stained glass window with the cross/knife and the band logo behind it, and how it was executed, in black and red and with a kind of modernist approach. I had seen it online when NoEvDia announced the record, but it actually looks way better on its physical form.
Finally focusing on the record it self, I must say I expected 'Condemnation' to follow the slight change of direction they had taken on 'Blood Libels', with a much more "orthodox" (or, in some sort, complex) way of doing things in comparison to the band's rawest first efforts. However, with a few listens I was glad to easily see some kind of a step backwards (in terms of sound and composition), with straighter and rawer songs that recover the old "Brutal Black" style of the band (as French magazines used to described the style back when they started). It's actually a very hateful recording without too many concessions nor compromises. It's full of straight and full-speed blastbeats (managed by Menthor, well known Portuguese drummer who has played for Necrosadist, Nightbringer, Bestia Arcana and Lvcifyre, among others) and Set's characteristic chainsaw guitars, without much experiments. Especially if one compares it with their predecessor, which could be equally fast but was more sinister and twisted. It only keeps some part of the diabolical melodies and glacial atmosphere of that record, but with a bigger similitude to 'De Principii Evagelikum' in terms of how they combine their classical furious "grinding" assault with second wave Black Metal darkness and some catchier parts.
If we take the first track of the record for example, "Shadow Fires", it's just pure Antaeus in the best form one could expect. There's only place for brutality and aggression, and the same happens with "Angles of Despair", not one single moment to take your breath. But the good thing is that they combine that with a few details and arrangements which always bring out a small extra, not allowing you to get bored. On the second song, "Flesh Ritual", or the one starting face B, the title-track (and my favorite of the record), they introduce some heavier and sinister tempos which combine amazingly well with the rest.
'Condemnation' also brings an improvement in certain parts of the sound production. Where 'Blood Libels' had a certain digital finishing, especially in the drums, which I guess is hard to avoid due to the speed of their songs, but also on the guitars, this time (I imagine that due to the stylistic step back) they have achieved a slightly more natural sound (I say slightly because the drums do still have some triggered end, mainly on the bass drum side). What really stands out this time is the bass; I don't think this instrument ever had as much presence on Antaeus previous recordings as it has now (and it had a lot on their previous album), and it gives a way heavier finishing to their sound. On the other side, guitars could have had some more presence on the mix, as when blastbeats appear (with the support of the bass), they are a bit displaced.
The return of darkness and evil is here. You won't find many bands in the current Black Metal scene playing this kind of agressive shit; do not expect anything fancy, only pure hatred and hyperspeed violence in the best possible way.
Gia Thanatos is a webzine dedicated to music for the apocalyptic times. No matter the scene or genre it comes from, and mainly chosen according to its author's taste.