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The Polish necro warlocks of Cultes Des Ghoules are back, and this time they a more learned, cunning and sadistic force for the dark arts, acting as His (read: SATAN) unholy agents on this dying, divided Earth. Henbane is an album made of equal parts dense atmosphere and classic concepts, drawing equally from first wave black metal, second wave black metal, Ross Bay Cult styled bestial black metal and thundering old-school doom metal to create a sound which no other band can truly match. And aided by a brilliant conceptual identity which reeks of rot, witchcraft and occultism, Henbane is the perfect mood music for late nights lost in the misty woods, dripping blood upon the altar of sacrifice and preparing one's body to entertain the ancient spirits.
Compared to Haxan, Henbane seems significantly softer at first: the production sound is cleaner, more balanced and far less dense, and the bands more Bestial elements have taken a back seat to a greater focus on riffs, introspection and mystical energies. But once the incantations of Henbane begin to shake and rattle your very bones, you'll soon realize the massive error in judgement you had made. Sure, it's a more approachable album than Haxan, Odd Spirituality or Spectres Over Transsylvania, but its also a more fully realized, mature and utterly devastating album than anything Cultes Des Ghoules have accomplished to date. The atmosphere is tremendous, using a combination of spine-shattering low end, diverse arrangements, ambiance and perfectly controlled repetition to envelope the listener in a shroud from which they might never escape. Henbane also frequently and masterfully makes use of sounds and samples to further amplify the already over-whelming atmosphere on the album, creating moments of somberness, insanity and suffering. Whether it's the ringing of a death knell, the chants of withered witches or the bubbling of a rusted cauldron, the use of these classic and spooky conventions further intensifies Henbane and gives it a rather charming novelty which is impossible to deny.
Though it's still all about the riffs with Henbane. It's got more of them than you can shake a crucifix at: thundering, Doom-y, Thrash-y, dissonant, melodic, noisy riffs which give off an equal mix of To Mega Therion, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas and Angelcunt (Tales of Desecration). "The Passion of a Sorceress" drips grime and filth, and the bass and drums combine to flatten mountains: at 2:25, prepare to have your skull force-fucked by damnation right off your slender, weak spine. Vocalist Mark of the Devil is simply inhuman as he moves from yelps, shrieks, growls and moans. He brays at the moon and screams like his testicles have been forcibly removed, he chokes on his own tongue and whispers ancient enchantments into your ear. He simply dominates this album, and his ancient and desiccated style fits perfectly with the tomb-dwelling riffs. "The Devil Intimate" becomes a truly terrifying sojourn, led through the bowels of Hades by the hand of Virgil, and slowly builds to a horrifying and frozen crescendo in the icy halls of the Ninth Circle. Once again, Mark of the Devil pulls out every vocal trick at his disposal and acts as the most ferocious and demented barker ever, while the skull crushing riffs and horrifying organ (so fucking wicked) act as a gory and pestilential back-drop to the madness.
Awesome honestly doesn't even begin to describe what Cultes Des Ghoules have achieved with Henbane. This album is such a fresh and fascinating take on classic extreme metal sounds, as well as classic horror elements, which makes it one of the most enjoyable and charming black metal albums I've ever heard. For an album which creates such an unholy and inhuman atmosphere, Henbane is also an album which, for lack of a better term, is a hell of a lot of fun. Its an album which conjures up old fears from your childhood, an album which brings you back to the first time you head-banged to a killer riffs and an album which can appeal to all the musical complexity you desire in your advanced age. All aspects are satisfied, and the Devil will get his due...