Review Summary: Cultes Des Ghoules struggle to create something fully distinctive from their previous output, but the result is too immense to ignore.
It’s rare that a new Cultes Des Ghoules record finds me uncertain, but that’s the first feeling I greeted their fourth studio outing, Sinister
, with. Cultes Des Ghoules have swiftly advanced from occult metal sideshow to one of my favorite contemporary black metal bands. Their reverence for first wave black metal comes off as both convincing and refreshing in the modern landscape, their output only getting better as more of their unique flavor appeared over time. Each of their monolithic LPs has its own distinctive flavor within their discography; Haxan
translating a youthful aggression, Henbane
conjuring an atmosphere of black magick ritualism, and Coven
showcasing their ambition via an extreme metal theater play about New England witchcraft. At first glance, Sinister
is hard to pin down. Is it a regression to their early years, lacking the obvious growth of their last two releases and perhaps signifying a drought of the creative juices？
The answer is somewhere between a yes and no. At least that’s where I’m at now. Sinister
does simplify their formula down to a sound within their first two studio LPs, but there’s also something pure and new in the mix as well. The first few tracks are perplexing initially, opener “Children of the Moon” quite literally anchoring off a single rhythm for its entire runtime to the point where you’re wondering why there’s been only one riff playing for the last seven minutes. It’s a good riff to be fair, a beefy 80s style groove that dials in and doesn’t let the headbangers cease their aged ritual until the final moment. Synths ebb and flow over it, building up the atmosphere until the climax of a siren-like guitar lead brings it all crashing back down. It keeps you wondering what the goal is until you realize that it’s the purest amalgamation of black metal and ritualism to yet come from Cultes Des Ghoules, the base instruments keeping a tight, repetitive, darkly hypnotic rhythm while the extras build up the atmosphere and keep the song moving.
That’s not to say that the other four tracks follow the same pattern. “Woods of Power” is far more traditional in composition, featuring more obvious dynamics and amping the pace up from mid tempo headbanger to blast beat laden tremolo riffs. Little room is given to the calm, instead opting for fuzzy distortion and pounding drums, though “The Serenity of Nothingness” features a very memorable finale of clean bass noodling and tribal drums before getting back to business in “Where the Rainbow Ends”.
Surprisingly, it’s “Children of the Moon”, despite it’s repetitive nature, that impresses the most on subsequent listens though the other four cuts are more immediate. Where its kindred are immediate and exciting for most of their runtime, it’s the subtle commitment of the opener, the creative use of a centralized rhythm as the “ritual” that makes me think. Sinister
is altogether unsurprising, stripping down a lot of what made Coven
so magnetic for admittedly heavy and headbangable material. The ritualism is still there though and Cultes Des Ghoules still execute on their formula immaculately, but Sinister
is somewhat disappointing all the same. Regardless, I would say that it’s a very good sign indeed that a disappointment still amounts to such an effective slab of occult black metal.