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Hammer Horror Doom! - 95%

solstice1090, August 1st, 2014
Written based on this version: 2010, CD, Echoes of Crom Records

Ah, Hammer Films. Any well-versed fan of horror is bound to have heard of the U.K.-based film studio whose name became synonymous with their gothic-flavored horror films. Howie Bentley, the guitarist and founder of the cult power metal band Cauldron Born and a major horror aficionado himself, decided one fateful Halloween night that he wanted to form a traditional doom metal band that would play music that would evoke in a listener the same feelings he felt watching the classic Hammer films, with lyrics telling chilling tales of black mass rituals, vengeful warlocks, demonic possessions, and of course, vampires. Particularly focusing upon the tale of the female vampire Carmilla Karnstein, originally told in a novel entitled Carmilla published back in 1871, and was eventually adapted into a movie titled The Vampire Lovers, which was produced by, surprise surprise, Hammer Films.

And so, in 2010, it came to pass that Bentley’s brainchild band, Briton Rites, would unleash their debut album, For Mircalla, upon an unsuspecting world. Throughout seven monstrous tracks, Bentley and crew treat us to over an hour of pure doomy awesomeness.

Each of these tracks are absolute riff-monsters, riffs that Tony Iommi would sell his left nut for. There are so many awesome riffs crammed into each of these songs, each of them insanely headbangable, and I guarantee that you’ll be humming the riffs to many of these songs for weeks on end after listening to this album. They are that freaking memorable and epic.

And as if the riffs weren't enough, Bentley puts on a guitar solo clinic here on each track. The man shreds up a storm in each solo he lays down on this album, but at the same time, manages to make each solo sound incredibly tasteful and, dare I say, memorable. The wah-infused solos he does on All-Hallowed Vengeance and The Right Hand of Doom are perfect examples of how to apply the wah pedal tastefully in a metal solo. Kirk Hammett could definitely stand to take some lessons from Mr. Bentley in the future.

Bass duties on the album are also handled by Mr. Bentley, and he does a fantastic job with it as well. The bass cuts in at numerous points throughout the album to provide some cool high-end note patterns that add even further to each song’s musical depth.

The vocals on the first six songs are helmed by Phil Swanson, and I’ll just state outright, that he’s probably the only element on the album that most first listeners might find objectionable. His is definitely a voice that takes some getting used to. He’s got this thin, reedy, warbly voice that at some points sound like he’s struggling to hit or maintain a pitch, like in the chorus of Carmilla, his voice does this really weird thing on the word ‘stay’ that sounds like he’s about to start crying; I always find myself snorting in amusement whenever I listen to him singing that chorus. I can’t help but wonder how much more awesome this album would sound with Messiah Marcolin, Scott Weinrich, or prime Sabbath-era Ozzy on vocals. Heck, Howie Bentley could’ve easily done it himself. On the last song of the album, Karnstein Castle, he handles the vocal duties, and he sounds goddamned perfect, a low, rich baritone of a voice that is just made for doom. All I can do is shrug and say he probably had his reasons for not providing all of the vocals. Regardless, Phil Swanson does a fairly admirable job, and once you adjust to his… unique style of singing, it doesn’t become that big of a negative factor.

Finally, I’d like to mention just how incredible the production on this album is. Everything is mixed perfectly, and the guitars in particular sport one of the most awesome tones I’ve ever heard on a metal album, just incredibly heavy, fuzzy, and distorted, and it suits this album perfectly. Major kudos to Mr. Bentley for managing to achieve such a kickass guitar tone.

So overall, in regards to Mr. Bentley’s goal of crafting music that would successfully evoke the spirit and atmosphere of the classic Hammer horror films, I would say that he succeeded with flying colors. For Mircalla is truly a masterpiece, a monstrous hour-long slab of doomy heavy metal that should appeal to any metal fan, chock full of kickass riffs, face-melting guitar solos, stellar bass work, and lyrics that evoke the same sort of spine-tingling imagery and atmosphere that those Hammer films succeeded so well at doing.

An auspicious chapter of a pristine career - 90%

Jophelerx, November 14th, 2012

Very few musicians are able to traverse multiple genres and still make consistently excellent music. The select handful of said musicians who actually exist are generally among the most revered of artists; you've got Gezol of Sabbat and Metalucifer, Philip von Segebaden of Afflicted, Defender, etc., and of course you've got the mighty Mark Shelton of the varied and monolithic Manilla Road. With 2010's For Mircalla, we see up-and-coming musical genius Howie Bentley join these hallowed ranks. Already a well-respected songwriter and guitarist for his milestone release Born of the Cauldron in 1997 (not to mention the solid follow-up in 2001, ...and Rome Shall Fall), Bentley proves that not only can he write top-tier power metal, but top-tier heavy/doom as well.

Vocalist Phil Swanson joins Bentley for the project, and I must say there are few better trad doom singers on the scene right now than Swanson. Already well-established in projects like Hour of 13, Seamount, and several others, Swanson seems to be the go-to-guy for quality trad doom nowadays, and for good reason. His nasal, mournful, malevolent tone fits this sort of music perfectly, as if he's a high priest of Satan or some other prominent occult figure; for some reason his performance always reminds me of Padan Fain from Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series; he just sounds so invested in dark rites that there's no turning back for him, ever. And again, it definitely works quite well for the music. There's not really all that many singers that sound like him; the closest comparison I can make is to Mark Shelton with a touch of King Diamond. He's clearly got his own character, though, and it comes through quite strongly in his baleful, slightly warbly midrange.

However, the riffs here are what really stand out. Taking influence straight from the masters and pioneers themselves, Black Sabbath, Bentley crafts songs with a penchant for melody, I daresay, that surpasses Tony Iommi's. Almost every song is catchy as fuck, with riffs strong enough to melt your face off - which is good, because they're repeated a lot. It's rarely enough to bore the listener, though, as is shown in "The Right Hand of Doom" - that main riff will have you headbanging for the entirety of its duration. That riff in particular is very similar to the opening riff in Sabbath's "Hole in the Sky", but it's used so well that you can't really blame him for plagiarism; similarly to Shelton's use of an Angel Witch riff in "Dreams of Eschaton", it's used to make a song that's even better than the original - which, in this case, is saying a lot, as "Hole in the Sky" is one of my favorite Sabbath tunes. There are a couple of places where the riffs get a little bit old (the outro of "Vampire Hunter", "Karnstein Castle"), but for the most part they're used with great success.

The lyrics, too, are quite excellent, Swanson warbling on about Satanic rituals, sacrifices, kidnappings, etc. This takes Sabbathian doom to a whole new level; although Bentley is far from the first to use occult themes, he does it in such a convincing way that it's hard not to credit him with perfect Sabbath's original art. The only song I'm really not a fan of is "Karnstein Castle" which is a bit too slow and repetitive, with riffs that aren't quite catchy enough and a vocal performance that leaves something to be desired. Bentley himself performs the vocals here, and while they're interesting, they're not enough to carry a slow, plodding, 13-minute song. They sound very gruff and barbaric, as if Bentley is a dumb, giantish brute relaying dark tales he's witnessed as best as he knows how. It's certainly a convincing role, it's just not particularly interesting; the song is enjoyable for three or four minutes, and then it just gets really old really fast.

Still, with classics like "Vampire Hunter", "Carmilla", and "The Exorcism of Tanith", this is certainly a milestone in the doom genre, and one of my favorite albums of the style, ever. Catchy, headbangable, yet still occult and malevolent, Bentley has a firm grasp on exactly how this sort of doom is supposed to be played, and makes use of that ability with quite a bit of consistency. The third of three hugely successful albums across two major subgenres of metal, Bentley shows a mastery of songwriting in general, and with a Cauldron Born EP and another Briton Rites full-length on the way, he's obviously far from finished. Akin to a younger Mark Shelton, Bentley remains one of my favorite metal artists of all time, along with the aforementioned Shelton and James Shellberg of Longings Past and Enchanter. Hopefully, this is merely the start of a long and increasingly excellent career.

Fire your vocalist. - 73%

caspian, November 25th, 2010

I loved the shit out of this record when I first heard it- a retro doom band in a doesn't suck shock!- but coming back to it recently, well, it's still an awesome album but (as you sharper readers have probably gathered) the vocalist is really terrible, far worse than I remembered. The top shelf musicianship mostly makes up for it, yet it still irritates me like a bit of gravel in the foreskin, and thus here I am, venting my frustrations to anyone unfortunate enough to be on this page.

What's really irritating is that the music deserves so much more. The doom on here is generally more of the freight train variety than anything terribly slow; more Children of the Grave than Electric Funeral, and with a sort of heaviness that suggests that Bentley when writing this was more influenced by later era musics then he'd like to think. From that massive, full force opening riff of Camilla to the epic hypno-doom closer of Karnstein Castle (the best track on here, in no small part due to the different vocalist), shit just crushes. Huge guitar tone, a tendency to put in a shit load of fills and different variations in the guitar work; (the amount of different riffs and different fills on each repetition would make this a real pain in the ass to learn on guitar) awesome noodly bass lines, well, this doesn't really sound modern, but it's certainly no shitty retro throwback either. It's fresh, it's heavy and it's marvellous; not getting boring despite the tendencies of songs to bump the ten minute mark.

Yeah, it's pretty clear that on songs like Vampire Hunter 1600 and the Exorcism of Tanith (the latter which has one of the finest riffs ever) no expense was spared at getting the tunes perfect, which begs the question, what the shit were they thinking hiring this vocalist? Or alternatively, what the hell was Swanson (who's apparently a fairly versatile vocalist, so I'm led to believe) thinking when he recorded the vocals for this? You can't really say he's 'monotone' but it doesn't seem like he uses more than an octave in his range, if that. You could definite suggest that he's "powerless", "emotionless" and "whiny" though, because he is. It sounds he belongs in, well, a really bad doom band. No excitement from the vocals. Not a single decent vocal melody. Terrible, ozzy-but-slightly-lower tone. And he sings all the fucken time! I also gotta take issue at his lyrics; good subjects but poor execution (in Camilla and a Meeting in the Woods, anyway), only Summoning can get away with shoehorning a story straight into the lyrics. It also bums me out in that while the riffs, the fairly unique bass lines and drums strike this perfect mix between uniqueness and tribute, the vocals are just poor, generic as fuck retro doom cleans.

Do I like/recommend this record? I guess the answer is yes, despite the singer's best efforts to get me hating it. From the suprisingly shredding leads, to the actually-not-bad happier tune "The Right Hand of Doom" with it's rockin' riffs, to the deep, droning intonations of Howie Bentley in the album closer, there is a lot here that is really, really good and will get your neck sore and your dick hard. One could only imagine how mindblowing this would be with a different singer...

An Experience Not Of This Decade - 95%

Nosrac1691, June 24th, 2010

There are some things I just don’t understand. I cannot for the life of me understand why there aren’t more bands out there playing vintage Sabbath-influenced metal, devoid of stoner or other similar influences. C’mon, slow to mid-paced meaty RIFFS, nice bass lines, and lyrics of doom and gloom…what’s not to love? Fortunately, some bands, such as Briton Rites, continue on with the always awesome style of vintage British Metal. Briton Rites is the new band of Cauldron Born main man Howie Bentley, who had been out of the music scene for several years. Briton Rites doesn’t really sound much like Cauldron Born, but fans of Bentley’s previous band will be thrilled to know that his great, fantasy-fueled lyrics are still present.

Another thing I don’t understand is how this album, For Mircalla, was released in 2010. I mean seriously, this is one of those albums that should have been made in the early ‘80s, slowly grew a fanatic cult following, and then grew in status years later to the point of being hailed as a classic. The bleak cover art does not look like it belongs in this decade. Hell, nothing about this album is trendy or current at all, which is awesome. No bullshit doom metal is what For Mircalla is all about. Fans of Black Sabbath and occult lyrics NEED to buy this album. If you ever wished Sabbath would have really dug into some occult lyrics around the time of Master of Reality or Vol. 4, then you owe it to yourself to get this.

There are 7 songs on this album, with 3 of them stretching past the 10 minute mark. With songs about vampires, exorcisms, demon conjuring, and a certain severed hand, For Mircalla evokes a profound gothic atmosphere. Listening to this album is like watching old cult horror movies and enjoying yourself immensely as you do. Everything is in place, be it lyrics, slow and hopeless (yet endlessly empowered) riffs, an authentically haunting atmosphere, or superb musicianship.

The opener “Carmilla” is probably easiest song to digest on the album, and it is certainly one of the catchiest. Bentley takes center stage on this album with humongous riffs as well as soaring leads. The guitar tone is wonderfully fuzzy, which unfortunately doesn’t reach my ears much anymore, and the bass (also played by Bentley) is intricate and tasty. The drums are manned by Vainglory guitarist Corbin King, whose studio was used for the production of this record. Phil Swanson (of Hour of 13 fame and a ton of other bands) provides solid, clear vocals that occasionally sound truly sad. For example, listen to him in “Carmilla” when he sings “The nightmares came again, poor Laura.” When he sings “Laura,” it sounds so hauntingly sad that I look forward to it when the song kicks on.

Every song is pretty much a highlight, with “A Meeting in the Woods” being a devil-worshipping favorite, as well as “The Right Hand of Doom,” which was inspired by Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane short story of the same name. It took “Vampire Hunter, 1600” a while to grow on me, but it’s a great song with nice bass work and a doomy-as-hell outro, and those leads, lord have mercy those leads. The albums closer, “Karnstein Castle,” features Bentley on vocals, who possesses a deep style that fits the song amazingly well. I think it would have been cool if Bentley and Swanson had traded off vocals on a song or two, because I like them both. But, then again, that may get in the way of the story each song is trying to tell. What the hell do I know?

For Mircalla is a breathtakingly strong debut from an already formidable band in the world of doom metal. Highly, highly, recommended. One of the best albums of 2010 so far.

Doom Elite; a wonderful delight! - 98%

Empyreal, May 19th, 2010

It takes a special kind of touch to do doom metal right. And I’m not talking about the more modernized depressive stuff with growling vocals and keyboards; no, no. I mean the real stuff. The heavy, fistful-of-riffs, occult-prayer variety with lyrics about Satanic rituals, old Lovecraftian gods, vampires and fantasy tales, vocals that sound like they’re coming out of the mouth of a demonic priest or some kind of witch hunting renegade…it’s the kind of sound that beats you over the head with the overpowering sensation of DOOM. Few bands really nail it, but Briton Rites have, and their debut For Mircalla is just a huge amount of fun.

A new project from Cauldron Born-mastermind Howie Bentley, Briton Rites is a deeply inspired band. Just listening to this, you get the idea that these guys all knew what they were doing: him and drummer Corbin King and vocalist Phil Swanson. The basic sound is huge, twisted slabs of distorted guitars so thick and impenetrable that you could use them as a substitute for the Berlin Wall if you wanted. The vocals from Swanson are his usual very limited, warbly doom bleating, but they are entertaining, and they fit the sound to a tee. The bass shines through numerous times on every song, adding a darker, more elegant touch to the unfurling vampiric madness from the guitars. Atmosphere is conjured, mixing with unstoppable hooks to create a dense and layered sound that will reveal new little nuances with every listen. And what a long album this is! It never gets old, though, feeling about fifteen or twenty minutes shorter than it really is. You will look at the clock after it ends and marvel at how a whole hour has passed while you were immersed in this doomy masterpiece.

“Carmilla” instantly hooks in the listener with its unbearably catchy musical ideas and the huge, adventurous vocals. The riff hits you like a barbed and spiked gauntlet, and it doesn’t let go for the entire 8 minute duration of the song. It is so infectious that it will draw you back time and time again to hear it, and when you’re done, you still have another hour of great metal to go! “A Meeting in the Woods” is a darker, creepier crawler, slugging on for over 9 minutes and luring you in with more subtle musical hooks. And then we get the 10 minute epic “Vampire Hunter, 1600,” which rumbles on with a huge, Earth-shaking riff and a denser thicket of musical prowess to dig through – a grower, for sure. And just listen to that bass line; isn’t that awesome? It literally sounds like the footsteps of a hunter as he ventures into some dark, velveteen castle, in search of a seductress who has taken the women of some small, helpless village. Great atmosphere, great crushing, suffocating heaviness…great song.

“The Right Hand of Doom” brings things back to Earth with its grooving, Sabbathine romp and catchier chorus, but we are quickly whisked away again by the mystical, bubbling cauldron of occult fire and brimstone that is “The Exorcism of Tanith,” which is probably the most writhing and lively track on display, with its wrathful, fiery soloing and head-crushing riffs. “All Hallowed Vengeance” is more amped up Sabbath worship, spiced with a hefty helping of sorrowful, poetic gloom. I like how it builds up from its slow dirge to the more upbeat rocking at the end. I also must say this track was the hardest to get into of all of them here, probably due to the more linear structure - almost folksy in a way due to the lyrics adapted from Robert L. Tierney’s poem of the same name.

But all bow before the grand feast of this great work, titled “Karnstein Castle.” It makes me sad in a way that Bentley did not contribute more to the vocal work on this album himself, but he did for this song, and it helps. “Karnstein Castle” is…simply epochal, reaching into the depths of doom and darkness and shadows and coming out with one hell of a song. Monstrous, colossal riffs slog out of the gates like Lovecraftian devils the size of continents. Howie’s vocals are a deep, clean rumble that sounds really, really good. Just the perfect doom voice for the perfect doom song. Epic, enchanting and foreboding. What a way to end an album!

This is the work of a band that really understands not only the technical aspects of metal songwriting, but also why it works, and what makes it so good. When I listen to this, I really get a sense of exactly what makes heavy metal such a wonderful style of music. It’s this spirit, this intangible rebellious, yet also intelligent, raw and offbeat kind of quality that intrigues me so much that I get hooked to it for weeks once I get a whiff of its dusty, archaic riffs and leads. I can connect with this kind of music on a higher emotional level. It simply fills me with this really enthusiastic joy, and that’s the best reason I can think of to recommend this to someone else. The best album I’ve heard this year so far.

A Doom Feast - 95%

Sargon_The_Terrible, May 7th, 2010

It has been eight long years since we last had any new music from Howie Bentley, the mastermind of the long-absent Cauldron Born. When I heard he had a new project in the works I was all over that shit, and after a long wait I at long last have the finished album in my hands. Briton Rites is quite different from Cauldron Born, but Bentley's guitar wizardry and dedication to dark, awesome lyrics remain intact.

Deeply inspired by classic NWOBHM bands like Witchfinder General, or (obviously) Black Sabbath, For Mircalla is a riff-feast of epic proportions, with a thick, fuzzy guitar sound ripping out killer old-school riffs and solos. Bentley is all about chugging, ultra-heavy guitars and a pervasive atmosphere of doom and darkness. This is like a distillation of old Sabbath, Gothic Horror fiction, and Hammer movies all stirred in together. There is a solid NWOBHM flair to the sound, but the recording is very slick and clear and it's obvious that Bentley's long experience allows him to get just the right tone. I was concerned about Phil Swanson on vocals, as his voice is a bit iffy, and sometimes he can sound out of place. His voice is particular and only fits certain kinds of music, fortunately, that is this kind of music. I could wish for someone with a darker and deeper voice, but he works.

Packed with epic songs, dark atmosphere, and Howie Bentley's tasty and heavy guitar work, there is just no downside to this album. So not only do you get to feel good buying this for supporting the underground, but you get a killer fucking album as well. Get it, get it, get it.

Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com

Riff-finder General - 95%

failsafeman, April 28th, 2010

Girls had been disappearing from the village for months, and reports said they were always comely; far too comely to be coincidence, far too many to be the work of one of the old ones. They were much more careful. No, this was a new vampire, still drunk with the power of his recent conversion. This juvenile sort was the easiest, for they still thought themselves invincible. The young girl struggled against the rope that bound her to the tree, unhappy her townsfolk had chosen her to assist me as bait; sometimes, beauty could be inconvenient. The vampire would never touch her, and I had assured her of that fact, but still she struggled. So much the better. As I waited, the moon rose over the graveyard, throwing sharp-edged shadows of leafless trees across the snow like grasping, skeletal hands. I had chosen tonight precisely because it was clear and the moon was full. Night-sight might be the least ostentatious of a vampire's dark gifts, but it could also be one of the most dangerous, when traps and surprise were essential to their defeat, as they so often were. Tonight at least I could see well.

Soon I heard the sound I had been waiting for: the low scrape of the great stone door grating open down in the crypt. The same door had foiled my attempts to open it during the day, precipitating the current situation. My grip tightened around the rope, and I held my breath. From the inky blackness of the crypt a large black cat emerged. It sat innocently before its threshold, and observed the bound girl with yellow eyes. The girl held the cat's attention such that it didn't notice me at all.

This hesitation was all I needed; I yanked the rope, and the net that had been buried in the snow sprung up around the yowling cat. Suddenly it was not a cat at all, but a robed figure, struggling in a net he would never leave alive. It was woven from such things that vampires could not break. I swung my axe, striking the creature full across the forehead; vampire or no, he felt that, and his struggles grew feeble. I could have disposed of him then and there, but I had questions. Hellspawn of this sort did not spring ex nihilo. I chewed some garlic and kicked the creature a few times for good measure. It shrieked and turned to look at me with flashing eyes, and I almost dropped my axe; it was a woman, and a beautiful one at that, pale and smooth as the newly-fallen snow around us. Even after my axe-blow her forehead was none the worse for wear. But there was nothing beautiful about her expression.

"Greetings, whore of Satan," I said.

"I will tear you limb from limb and feast upon your steaming flesh!" I spat full in her face, and she recoiled as if struck; there was garlic in that saliva.

"You are in my power now, and I can make your end swift and painless or rather less so, depending on how you answer me." She made a comment about my dearly departed mother, but I ignored it. "Who is your master?"

"The devil is my master, and I revel in his worship! I have devoured many in his name, and will continue to devour many more long after you are dead and gone."

"I speak of your Earthly master. Whom do you serve? Who turned you into a slave of the night?" At this she fell silent, her face relaxing into a mask, though her eyes still shone with suppressed rage.

"You may appear old, but the vigor of youth flows strong within you." Her voice was sultry now, like fine velvet. "Have you mistaken me for someone else? I am but a simple widow, who was mourning her husband down in the crypt. Surely that is no crime? I am so very lonely." Her charms were clumsy, but I could not deny the allure of her form as she tried to make herself seem vulnerable and appealing. I chewed another clove and leered obscenely at her. She faltered a little, confronted by my yellowed teeth and foul breath.

"You haven't the stomach for the kind of company I would give you," I said. "But save your breath, I have been doing this work for a long time, and your charms are meant for younger men...or women." She flushed at this, and looked away. This natural response was more beautiful by far than her artifice. "I ask you again: who is your master?" But she had closed herself up, sulking like a sullen child. I felt a twinge of pity that one so young had fallen, but this did not weaken my resolve. If she would not tell me willingly, I had methods at my disposal that could convince her.

First I freed the terrified girl who was still bound to the tree, and without a word she raced home. I shrugged; I took my thanks in coin, not words. Then I went back to my equipment, and switched it on. It hummed with power as it sprung to life, and the very air felt electric. My captive watched me with wide eyes, showing real fear for the first time. They always thought immortality would last forever. I readied my axe, and played a mid-paced riff of my own invention; the stack of Marshall amps took that riff and multiplied it a thousand fold, until it shook the very Earth. The vampire wailed, pressed to the ground beneath the weight of my heavy riffs.

"Who is your master? Where can I find him?" I changed tempo, opting for a slow, punishing plod. It was appropriate, as her doom was nigh. The air vibrated, and even I had trouble breathing as the graveyard became stuffy and oppressive. Everything appeared blurry, and I heard her bones gradually crack with agonizingly prolonged deliberation. To a lesser extent I could feel the weight as well, but I was toughened by years of listening to British doom at maximum volume. Still, her master's hold was strong, even now preventing her from telling me what I wanted to know; but she would break before the day did. I played a devastating counterpoint, and grinned.

________________________________________________________________


Yes folks, there is no bullshit here, no beating around the bush; from the second you press play, For Mircalla bludgeons you about the head with Brit-flavored riffs. Black Sabbath with a side of Witchfinder General's energy and a dash of Pagan Altar's atmosphere all dressed up in a guitar tone dripping with grease is the recipe on display here, and what a recipe it is! I gained weight just listening to it. This is an album for people who say doom has to be slow, because it's anything but. "Carmilla", the opener, is downright brisk until the bridge. Just goes to show that doom is a state of mind, baby. Thanks to mastermind Howie Bentley's characteristic dedication to his subject matter, the album is simply drenched in occult and gothic atmosphere. The greater part of the songs revolve explicitly around Carmilla, a gothic vampire novella originally published in 1872 - significantly predating and in fact influencing Bram Stoker's iconic novel. As such the songs bring to mind moonlit rituals, graveyards at midnight, and nocturnal predators that lust for the blood of men. Basically what I was trying to convey in my little scene above. Faggy Twilight types need not apply, we've got lesbian vampires from 1872 instead. Yes, really, read Carmilla. ...you're probably reading the Wikipedia article, you lazy fuck.

Before I get into THE RIFFS, THE MONSTROUS RIFFS, I will talk about the other elements first. We've got the inimitable Phil Swanson on vocals, and as I was already a fan from his work with Hour of 13, I slid right into his style like an old sock. We won't see him winning American Idol anytime soon, no, but he hails from the same "weird but effective" school as Mark Shelton and especially Terry Jones. No, not that Terry Jones, I mean the singer from Pagan Altar. In fact Swanson accounts for a lot of the comparisons to that band, with a similar sort of nasal tone that brings to mind a priest of Satan wailing his praises to the dark lord. He's excellent throughout; fans will be satisfied, newcomers will become fans. "Karnstein Castle" however is notable in that the vocals are handled by Howie himself, and his deep, sepulchral intonation again will not win any talent shows but fits the atmosphere of the song specifically. It contrasts well with Swanson's higher nasal tenor, and I hope Howie sings on a song or two for their next album. He even busts out a bit of King Diamond-esque falsetto! I love it!

Corbin "the" King handles percussion, and he's refreshingly reserved and traditional; big open beats with oldschool no-frill fills are what we get, and as expected he rides the cymbal a lot - but not too much. Bentley handles bass as well as guitar duties, and quite admirably; his lines and fills remind me of Geezer Butler, especially on "Vampire Hunter, 1600".

But of course the real star here is, you guessed it, DA RIFFS. They're these big chunky meaty things that plod and slop out of your speakers like all the best parts of "Children of the Grave" and "Into the Void" and "Wheels of Confusion" put together, with perhaps some of the cohesion heard from bands that came later like Witchfinder General and maybe even Desolation Angels. Any innovation here comes in the form of refinement and development on the original themes. No "Changes" here, folks, and in this case that's a very good thing. Don’t fix what ain’t broke. I could point to this or that riff as examples of really good ones, but honestly, they're ALL of a supreme quality that it wouldn't be doing the rest justice to single a few out. Just listen to any one of them and pretend I mentioned it here. Probably the greatest strength of the songwriting and riffcraft in particular is Howie's ability to take long songs made up of long riffs and make them gripping, exciting even, not letting you get bored for even a second. The shortest song on here is 6:38, with most being much longer, so that's quite a feat. The riffs never overstay their welcome, either; while a lot of traditional doom bands seem so in love with their own riffs that they are unwilling (or unable) to let them go, Bentley leaves us wishing we'd heard that riff a few more times, until we realize the riff he changed to is fucking awesome too. The length of the "call/response" is often doubled as well, making for long, interesting phrases. Usually you've got just a 1-2-1-2 sort of riff, but instead on this album we've got 1-2-1-3-1-2-1-3 a lot of the time, with 2 being an incomplete resolution and 3 being a complete one. Even though the difference between 2 and 3 might not be large, it leaves the riff feeling much bigger and more interesting, which gives them the longer lifespan needed for our attention to survive on the longer songs. The final trick in Howie's bag is tempo and pacing shifts; too often bands will write long songs just like short ones, but with more riffs. Unfortunately that just doesn't work. Each song on For Mircalla however goes through numerous sections of various speeds, building and releasing tension as they go in a masterful fashion. Reverend Bizarre & pals, take note.

The one element here that really points in a modern direction is the guitar solos. Howie is absolutely talented, in fact maybe too talented; occasionally I can't help but feel they're a little complex for the style on display here. He's usually tasteful, like on "Karnstein Castle" (I love the way it ends abruptly), but on "The Right Hand of Doom" for example his shredding borders on being too much, considering this isn't Cauldron Born we're listening to. After all, Iommi's lead guitar work on the first four Sabbath albums was pretty bad, from a technical standpoint. All told though it's a pretty limp-wristed criticism, since even the worst offenders are still good, only they fail to mesh as well as they could. Full disclosure: my name appears in the acknowledgements section of the liner notes to For Mircalla, but Howie didn't pay me to write this, I swear!

This is the best oldschool doom album I've heard yet. No, no caveats. The best. Yes, including the actual oldschool doom it’s based on. As awesome as Volume 1 and Volume 4 may be, they suffer from the same problems many pioneers do; that being they don't really know where the hell they're going yet. Lewis & Clark didn't exactly make the best time to the Pacific coast, nor did Bach invent baroque. Compared to good modern bands playing in the oldschool style, such as Iron Man or Rising Dust, Briton Rites still come out ahead. They draw together the strands of the traditional doom period and bring it closer to its ultimate maturity than ever before. Although they don't really introduce any new forms, they enrich the prevailing British style while simultaneously revitalizing and codifying it. Don't be surprised if you hear more bands in this style popping up like toadstools, and I'll be right pissed off if Briton Rites go the way of Cauldron Born; I demand nothing less than a long and illustrious career in which For Mircalla is but the first step.

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It was just before dawn when she finally broke; I saw it in her eyes. I could tell how powerful the master was by how long it took to break one of his thralls, and this thrall's master was very powerful indeed. His compulsion had been strong within her. Now her bones were broken in countless places, her skin bruised and bleeding all over, but a vampire could not die from such things, no matter how much it might want to. She raised a mangled, trembling hand, and pointed. I looked and saw Karnstein Castle looming above the village, perched on the edge of a cliff, wreathed in the mist of morning. I stopped playing, and her hand fell back. I could have left her for the sun, but instead I plunged the neck of my guitar deep into her heart. As blood welled up out of her mouth, she thanked me, and died. I sat on a headstone smoking my pipe and watched the dawn break, flesh pink. If her master were truly the lord of the castle as I feared, the road ahead would be difficult indeed.