Review Summary: Mort Divine.
Black metal, much like doom metal, unfortunately suffers from an affliction known as ‘empirical shi
ttiness’. In other words, the vast majority of what you’ll hear from the genre is terrible; indeed, I pulled that term completely out of my arse, but any listener of black metal knows the extent to which the genre can fall, and has fallen. Luckily enough, gems such as Belenos shine through the sloppy and under produced crap that you’re most likely to hear. Spicilege
, Belenos’ second full length, is a showcase of how a black metal album needs not necessarily conform to all of the limitations placed on it by its genre. Fusing various folk elements into the core structure of black metal, while expanding the genre’s borders to make it both appealing and innovative, Spicilege
has an elegant poise about it, tipping itself oftentimes into various melodic arrangements, but never disregarding what it truly is: black fu
cking metal. Belenos’ melodic touches are wonderfully interspersed with a vicious intensity that one would hardly expect from a band delving so deeply into folk and pagan influence. Spicilege
is a truly captivating experience from start to finish, encompassing not only solemn quietude, dense atmosphere and a very believable expression of black metal, but also remaining faithful to its true endeavor of perverse rage.
Pulling off ‘folk’ elements is without a doubt difficult; it’s not hard to hear the world laughing at you when you’re listening to ‘The Gathering of the North Oak Forest Elves in the Moonlight of the Stream of Shadows’, complete with hurdy-gurdy, operatic female vocals, and not an ounce of originality. Belenos thankfully distance themselves from such stereotypes, and their own brand of ‘pagan’ black metal, if you will, is inventive and surprisingly refreshing. These influences crop up in various ways throughout Spicilege
, whether it be through assorted acoustic passages, chanted vocals, or just the basic outlook of the album. ‘Loin au Nord’ is perhaps the most archetypal folk/black song to be found, beginning with a flute melody and working its way into a comparatively slow moving tempo. Chanting, or simply Loïc Cellier’s deep voice, is predominant on the track, giving the album a change of pace from the mood created by the previous songs. In terms of vocals, Spicilege
is sublime. Cellier’s screams are mixed somewhat in the distance, which then allows the sludgy (and I mean this in the loosest possible sense) riffing to create a thick and dark atmosphere. Of the countless black metal vocalists, Cellier is really something else; his screams are consistently penetrating, never too high to become ridiculous or annoying, and always having a very throaty basis which complements the album’s already sinister atmosphere.
What is most surprising about Spicilege
is how fantastically good its drumming is; rather than hiding it behind a unreasonable amount of tremolo-ed riffing, the drumming is at the forefront, persistently assisting the ferocity of the various guitar lines. Remarkably, the drumming is as inventive as the album itself; not at all monotonic in nature, a la most black metal, the album’s upbeat moments hit you in the face like a freight train. ‘Ensorcelé’ is the prime example of this: shifting from ferocious pummeling to slower, more concentrated passages, the track is as poignant as it is menacing. On the subject of drumming, what really stands out, both on ‘Ensorcelé’ and other tracks, is the extraordinarily well played fills. As no expert on drumming, this reviewer can’t really say much about the technical proficiency regarding the instrument, but in terms of sounding fu
cking awesome while not becoming ridiculously overbearing (new Faceless, anyone?), Spicilege
is a very well played album.
Having already mentioned the album’s ‘atmosphere’ a number of times, perhaps more articulation is required. The production of Spicilege
is a vital contributor to its effect; obviously, how it sounds makes a difference to how it’s perceived, and Belenos’ efforts to purposely create a backdrop in which the album has a heightened sense of clarity, while still retaining a somewhat grim and murky feel, are highly successful. Tremolo-picked riffing does occur, but not in the way you would expect. The guitar lines still maintain a sense of strength, and have such variation in them that not a single song, although complying to the album’s overall product, sounds the same. Added to this is the diverse drum performance, and both of these instrumental elements keep Spicilege
consistently entertaining. Moreover, unlike most other folk/black counterparts, Belenos will not make you cringe. It has chanting, it has acoustic passages, it even has something of a battle cry (see ‘Par Belenos’, or again ‘Loin au Nord’), all of which can be found on various other albums of this type, but Belenos really take the emphasis off any sort of honour and glory concept and completely immerse you in their dense and full sound.
is but one of four Belenos albums, and although being the best of the four in the opinion of this reviewer, you can be assured that each Belenos creation is an excellent piece of music. Spicilege
is proof of the band’s consistent work and innovation, and they are to be commended for their ability to take two completely overused and tiresome concepts, combine them, and make something unique and fascinating. Highly recommended.