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Five years after the release of their instant classic Haxan, Polish Satanic black metal horde Cultes des Ghoules return this year with a vengeance with their follow up full length album, Henbane.
Following up with a highly acclaimed album is always a challenge, but Cultes des Ghoules takes it in their stride as would be quickly evident on the material on Henbane. Similar to their previous exploits, there is a rather heavy emphasis on the atmospheric aspects on Henbane, as can be heard in the intro of opening track Idylls of the Chosen Damned. But things start to go into chaos pretty quickly as the first riffs hit the listener, and on top of the usual black metal stylistics, the band has this time included some slight death metal influences as well, with the furiously trem-picked riffs and the resulting tension being rather reminiscent of the Finnish death metal style, adding to the darkness that is already quickly encroaching upon the listener.
Of course, the band does not abandon their original stylistics, and it wouldn’t be exactly right to say that Cultes des Ghoules has polished up their sound on Henbane, since the music on the album remain as raw and filthy-sounding as their previous releases. Yet things are certainly even more thought out now than before, and this has resulted in a more torturous and harsher listening album. The sound of Cultes des Ghoules range from the classics of Norwegian greats such as Mayhem, down to the bestial style of bands such as Canadian maniacs Blasphemy and bands such as Black Witchery, especially in the chaotic, yet extremely precise style of drumming on the album. Along with that tinge of death metal that is now more heavily present in their music, there are even moments where one is reminded of such bands as Bestial Raids and Antediluvian.
The entire album may be one that is rather difficult to sit through for those unfamiliar with Cultes des Ghoules‘ ritualistic style of black metal, and this is pretty understandable with the amount of unease that the band provides. The clever usage of the different vocal styles of Mark of the Devil is one such technique used, going from tortured, inhuman shrieks to whispers, and even providing some sinister laughs from time to time to constantly test and push the sanity of the listener. Furthermore, there is a constant dark cloud shrouding the music, making the listening experience of Henbane all the more ominous. The long track times also mean that such feelings of doom and desolation can be slowly cultivated within the listener, with the repetitive but trance-inducing riffs proving to be rather effective as they are played and replayed to the listener, with songs like The Passion of a Sorceress sounding like a droned-out version of Archgoat with the simplicity but effectiveness in the technique.
To continue proving their uniqueness, the band also includes non-conventional instrumentation on the album such as the additional percussions on moments like Vintage Black Magic and towards the end of Idylls of the Chosen Damned, giving a nice flavour to the music and complementing the ritualistic mood that has been created.