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‘Henbane’ is the second full length of the Polish act Cultes des Ghoules, also on the back of two EP’s, two demos and two split releases with fellow countrymen Goat Tyrant and Szron.
When hearing their archaic approach which recalls older styles of underground metal, it’s of no surprise that ‘Henbane’ belongs to a crop of releases that come from the often consistent Hell’s Headbangers label. Whilst bands on their roster might be associated with a conservatism within the genre, pertaining to more orthodox, old school values, this is certainly more than a one-trick pony.
‘Henbane’ consists of five lengthy songs which ooze a cryptic distortion quite similar to Darkthrone’s ‘A Blaze In The Northern Sky’, as if the amplifiers were turned up to their highest levels and the cables were threatening to malfunction. Similar also to that album is also the use of death metal technique which narrates throughout each piece. As a modern band, it would be easy to suggest that this approach runs parallel with recent bands such as Cruciamentum, Antediluvian or Venenum.
Thick, yet cavernous guitars dominate ‘Henbane’ with what for the most part is quite simple riff work that has a murky tone like Hellhammer, and like their successor Celtic Frost, a capacity to create grandiosity out of simple strokes. For instance a song such as ‘Vintage Black Magic’ begins with an undistorted arpeggio riff that sounds similar in structure to Beherit’s ‘The Gate Of Nanna’. When the song shifts into a more aggressive territory, the guitars, bass and drums are overlaid with an eerie, choral synth that is similar to what can be heard on a song such as ‘Sadomatic Rites’ or the mid-section and breakdowns of ‘Solomon’s Gate’ by said band. It’s this simple application and reworking of ideas that makes for very endearing black metal.
Shifting through sinister interludes of organs, pipes and clear, near psychedelic guitars, this is an album that doesn’t initially overwhelm but on repeat listens becomes rather rewarding.
The aura of pre-second wave black metal casts a dark shadow over ‘Henbane’. The influence of bands from the former Eastern Bloc, especially the likes of Root, Tormentor and Master’s Hammer are prevalent here and compliment the grimy, unpolished path of Cultes des Ghoules.
Vocalist Mark Of The Devil is excellent. His execution is rough, throaty and dynamic, and is comparable to Attila Csihar, Dead or Big Boss. There is plenty of rhythmic and tonal depth to his delivery that stands out within the macabre, Lovecraftian ambience.
Where many ‘promising’ releases tantalize on their first listen only to quickly wear out their welcome, Cultes des Ghoules deliver an album that demands attention, slowly unleashing its riches when given repeats.