ALBUM REVIEW : BELPHEGOR — Totenritual
It is officially autumn in the northern hemisphere, and it's the season for heavy, gloomy and cold music. Amongst this season's important releases is a much-anticipated new album from Austria's most infamous outfit, Belphegor.
If you have ever seen this band live before, you may think of their albums as merely complimentary to their live performances. I myself often said that Belphegor is an entity that can only truly be enjoyed live, in all their extreme loudness and ritualistic energy. At least that was my opinion until I listened to their new record, Totenritual.
This is an album that is absolutely and entirely Belphegor, but it is also somewhat different from anything else they've recorded previously. As if conjured up from an ancient, very ill-intentioned grimoire, these songs get under your skin and will never really leave.
This album is altogether deeper, darker, and more intricately crafted. As a whole it flows well especially for something in the blackened/extreme death metal variety. The intro samples they picked (including a bit from the cult classic "The Devils") are well-suited to the songs and don’t sound just slapped on to the track, but instead set the tone for it. There is also an elusive melodic element to Totenritual, something the band doesn’t normally put at the forefront of their music. Songs like "Swinefever: Regent of Pigs" and "Totenkult: Exegesis of Deterioration" both have memorable patterns that make them as melodic as can be when it comes to extreme metal, and I find myself particularly drawn to them - I would say that they are my favourite tracks on this album, along with "Apophis – Black Dragon". Belphegor has been playing “Totenkult” live for a little while, and it’s good to hear the recorded version, with all the intricacies you might miss with the live sound. Totenritual is more organized chaos than cacophony, and it gives Belphegor an edge over many other extreme metal bands that strictly rely on fast erratic music and loudness to get their point across. There is even an entirely instrumental interlude with “Totenbeschwörer” on this record.
If you are a purist however fear not; songs like "The Devil's Son" pay their dues in crushing guitars and blastbeats galore. Their new official drummer - the man known as Bloodhammer - is an absolute machine, and even though joining a band with a reputation such as Belphegor has got to be challenging, he is absolutely crushing it. Speaking of crushing, I'm always a sucker for audible basslines I can feel in my bones, and this album also boasts some of the most devastating bass work that Serpenth has ever recorded for the band. Prime examples can be found in the first song "Baphomet” as well as on “Apophis – Black Dragon”. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing these songs live later this year when they hit the road with Cryptopsy and Hate!
Belphegor - "Baphomet" (uncensored)
For Totenritual, Helmuth has layed down his signature vokills as tightly and fiercely as usual. Hel’s voice comes backed by Serpenth’s high-pitched screeching vocals as usual, but also sometimes by a unsettling, eerie choir that I can only describe as half Gregorian chants and half Regan McNeil. Those are especially chilling on “Embracing A Star” and “Apophis – Black Dragon”. I believe that being able to bring out visceral feelings is a tell-tale sign of a great song, and Belphegor scores big for me with this. It give me the unshakable uneasiness that only watching an old creepy black and white movie like Nosferatu alone in the dark gives me.
As far as records are concerned, I believe that Totenritual is the best that Belphegor has given us yet over the many years of their prolific career. It is very well-crafted and entrancing, and a great follow-up to Conjuring The Dead and it is bigger, bolder, and slightly longer, for your enjoyment.
I still really believe that Belphegor is a band best enjoyed live: like a bizarre sexual tension between the band and the audience, they emanate an obscure hypnotizing dark energy in their performance. That always captivated me, and makes me want to see them over and over again. Lucky as we are, Belphegor has embarked on a tour across Europe just this week to bring their totenritual to the masses, and once done with Europe they will invade North America, so if you enjoy this album - or even if you don’t - be sure to check the dates and go see for yourself what Belphegor is all about in a live setting. There will be blood!
BELPHEGOR — Totenritual
Release date: September 15, 2017