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Quite often in Metal the albums that really cause stirrings of attention are the ones that cross boundaries between the multifarious sub-styles and tread along those lines, and Henbane is one of them. On their début, Häxan, this shadowy Polish 4-piece threw their lot into the pool of purposefully primitive Black Metal and caused a fairly respectable ripple, but this time round with those elements of pure sonic degeneracy and bestiality, including the raw and dense production, taking a back seat to a more atmospheric approach. In terms of crafting music of pure Black Horror this album nails it more than most.
It employs a lot of the same tricks as other horror-themed acts, like for example the countless bands who sample movies like “The Devil Rides Out”, but the care and attention to the atmosphere here shows a step above and beyond most of those lazy peers. Take for example the effects placed on the vocals in the middle of “The Passion Of A Sorceress” that give it that authentic Richard Price sort of feel, or the intro sample from that song which I suspect might be from an Eastern European production of Shakespeare's MacBeth. More than that though, the way these 5 lengthy songs are structured shows a rare understanding of the actual literary devices of the Horror genre that most bands content to play about with the imagery couldn't even dream of, and on the centrepiece track “Vintage Black Magic” the flow between building terror and unleashing horror is downright masterful.
Where they straddle that aforementioned line is how this fairly avant-garde streak is matched and tempered by some genuinely nasty and primitive Black Metal noise-mongering. Where the beefy, bestial DM elements remain the riffs are thick and stenchy while in the faster moments the proto-Black/Thrash of Tormentor is heavily evoked. Other Eastern European bands like Root and Master's Hammer are called to mind too for their primitive riffing style and at times there's some of that cloistering exoticness of Mediterranean bands like Mortuary Drape and Necromantia too but the best overall comparisons that can be made are to Mayhem and Negative Plane- in part sonically, but also in how finely that line between utter mongrelist musical deviance and intelligent songwriting is walked. Very few other Black Metal bands have ever traversed that division as uncannily as Cultes Des Ghoules do here.
The matching of theme to the music is a standout quality too, and cleverly tied in with a visual representation of the eponymous herb henbane growing out of the band's logo on the artwork. A substance loved by medieval herbalists and witches both for its malign health properties and its mind-altering psychotropic qualities too is a perfect flower to represent this album, equal parts venemous and labyrinthine. Although all the five tracks on here have their strengths it is “The Passion Of A Sorceress” and it's slowed-down blasting and bloody-minded down-stroked pummeling riffs that merge in chaotic fashion that comes across most maleficently, and the dark psychedelia flirtations of “Vintage Black Magic” (similar to some parts of the latest Tribulation) that come off the strongest.
As good as this is at its best though there is still a feeling of something missing. It doesn't manifest itself through most of the album, but on the rather lacklustre closing track “The Devil Intimate” it begins to dawn where this incompleteness lies, and the closing organ solo completely reveals it. As nice a touch as that organ is and does provide a spooky texture it ultimately is a cheap thrill, a musical cop out, and shows an lack of surety from the band of what exactly to do with this anticipation of terror and unveiling of horror they've so successfully crafted over the previous near hour. The mental engagement of the synapses that respond to dread and fright on this albums is damn near perfect, but it lacks that sense of revulsion, that full body and soul unsettling that the few real masters of Horror fiction and film can conjure. It is certainly within the possibility of Metal bands to evoke this, and has been done so fantastically by several bands in the Death Metal realm like Portal or more recently Malthusian. If on future efforts Cultes Des Ghoules were able to harness this power on top of those they have shown here they would be without comparison. [8/10]
From WAR ON ALL FRONTS A.D. 2013 zine- www.facebook.com/waronallfronts