Review Summary: Dark, brutal, transcendental, and ultimately unforgettable.
You don’t have to listen to the entirety of the opening cut from Cultes Des Ghoules’ Henbane
to get just what the band’s all about. “Idylls of the Chosen Damned” is thirteen minutes of raucous first wave black metal fury that makes it seem like Bathory never turned their backs on the style. The Polish outfit takes everything that defined the earliest strains of black metal and packages it together for 2013 with a filthy bow on top. Instead of the trebly guitars of early Ulver and Darkthrone, we get the bass-heavy, thumping rhythms straight out of a Beherit record, along with that particular band’s ritualistic atmospheres. Harsh snarls and moans echo over the instruments hauntingly, reminiscent of Attila’s performance on Mayhem’s debut. Henbane
really is a wet dream for anyone aching for the glory days of the first wave, without being just a revival of the old sound. Cultes Des Ghoules wrap all these varied attributes up into something both nostalgic and old school, as well as fresh and modern, to make one of the best black metal records of the 2010s.
“Idylls of the Chosen Damned” is where the band pours a good portion of their overall aggression, with fast tempos and pounding riffs taking center stage. It’s refreshing to see black metal forged of fuzzy, crushing riffs rather than the hypnotic tremolos that defined the second wave. “The Passion of a Sorceress” is almost the exact opposite of the opener in many respects. There’s several moments where Cultes Des Ghoules kicks it back into overdrive for blast beating madness, but the main riff that comprises most of the track is slow and brooding, pounding across in a nocturnal haze. The dynamic between slow and fast moments proves to be one of the band’s strengths, as they manage each to near equal levels of quality. What really makes Henbane
so bewitching though is the emphasis on atmosphere above all. Throughout the album there are moments of dark ambiance, ritualistic drum beats, occult moaning, all these features that lead to a wholly unsettling experience. The album sounds like it could be the soundtrack to a night of black witchery and devilish sacrifices, and it’s safe to assume that’s what the band was going for, judging from song titles like “Vintage Black Magic” and “The Devil Intimate”. What’s equally clear is that Henbane
is captivating from start to finish, due to not just the atmosphere, but the sum of all the parts that comprise this record.
Whether basking in thrashing black metal bliss or indulging their more ominous and measured side, Cultes Des Ghoules excel at creating something totally their own. The parts are essentially cherry picked from across black metal’s history (Mayhem’s vocals, Bathory’s guitars, Beherit’s atmosphere), but the spin is all their own. For all these reasons, Henbane
is surely an underappreciated modern black metal classic with loads to love, but not just for the first wave kids alone.