Review Summary: Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?
There was something intangibly unforgettable about Robert Eggers’ film The Witch
from earlier this year, a nagging disquiet to it that stuck with me through the months after and again once I had the opportunity to watch it a second time. It still holds an aura of evil in my mind, one that I don’t think will be recreated any time soon. Now, it’s fair to wonder why I’m talking about a film in a review for Cultes Des Ghoules’ Coven
, but I’ve been persistent in the belief that there’s a lot of intrinsic similarities between the two. Certainly there are differences aside from the medium; The Witch
has an unbearably cold atmosphere while Coven
is as hot blooded as black metal comes, and the plots are clearly different to boot. However, the central theme of paranoia and the classic New England witch hunt are one and the same. There’s not a band in existence that can capture a sense of ritualistic evil with archaic Christian concepts of witchcraft quite like Cultes Des Ghoules. With all this in mind, I’m busily adoring the idea that Coven
is the perfect, dismally black metal companion piece to The Witch
, and while it’s early still, I have an ominous feeling that it’s going to linger in the back of my mind in the same way that Eggers’ impeccably staged finale did.
Concept records rarely work out the way they’re intended, especially in metal, but in Coven’s
case, it simply wouldn’t work any other way. It’s set up like a theater play, with “scenes” in place of songs and a generous hour and forty minute runtime to match. Tedious as it will be for some, others will feel it flow by like running water. Impeccably graceful songwriting keeps the tracks feeling tight and compact despite three of the five songs passing the twenty minute mark and the rest not far behind. Truly, it feels more like one long act than anything else. There’s an unbroken flow between thrumming metal and theatrical interludes that ties the story together. As to the story itself, it’s the type of narrative that needs to be experienced and read along to the music. Full of archaic dialogue (yes dialogue, recall the comparisons to a theater play) and a hundred different vocal styles to represent characters, Coven
is more than just a record. It’s an entity unto itself, breathing blackened vapors and spitting fiendish filth.
features a similar, but not identical, Cultes Des Ghoules to that found on Häxan
. Their brand of black metal, melding the dirty bass heavy guitars of Bathory with the ritualization of Beherit, is still intact, but it bows to the theatricality in its own way. The instrumentation hangs back more than before, tackling thunderclap-powerful mid paced rhythms and oozing doom riffs, all in the name of setting the stage for Mark of the Devil’s career defining performance here. He zooms through characters and voices with a gleeful abandon, channeling his natural homage to Mayhem’s Attila one moment, then touching down in alternately cleaner or filthier territory at others. And the atmosphere is always palpable, a dozen moods shifting across Coven’s
runtime and every one feeling oh so devilish.
I have a great deal of love for black metal as a whole, the post-y variants and the atmospheric sorts, the true and the untrue. But if there was one band that nailed what black metal at its very essence should be, it’s Cultes Des Ghoules. Black metal is supposed to be black at heart, and it’s hard to argue that there are any blacker than they in the modern era. At this point I don’t even want to fight the urge to harp more on how much The Witch
has in common with Coven
. It did something similar with horror that Cultes Des Ghoules do with black metal. Though it didn’t fall squarely within that genre, it transcended and advanced the genre simultaneously. Coven
is further proof of what Cultes Des Ghoules can do, and the magic, however evil, is undeniable. There’s a blackened twist to this New England folktale, and it feels so wrong in all the right ways.