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There are two ways to view this release. Either it's a poor EP that is overlong, incohesive, and mixed in quality or its a case of one of the most esoteric doom bands that ever existed throwing pearls to the swine in the form of an elongated trip through the furthest reaches of their creative genius. I will consider both verdicts, though it must be said - whatever the result - 'Return to the Rectory' does not play evenly and does not hold an essential place in Reverend Bizarre's mostly lofty discography.
In the first place, the variety in the songs is all over the place, so maybe I will be forgiven for looking at one at a time. The warning sign might be the longest introduction to ever be put to tape, since 'The March of the War Elephants' is an 8 minute crawl that features a pounding drum and a lumbering sequence of heavy chords. Its musical merit doesn't extend much beyond that description. For those well versed in drone doom or ambient atmospheric music, there might be something more than tedium to find in this dirge, the mellow acoustic build-up (again its 5 minutes long) of 'The Festival', or the endless plod of 'For You Who Walk in the Land of the Shadows', none of which contain much trace of excitement beyond the occasionally dramatic vocals.
The more developed songs are probably 'The Goddess of Doom' and 'Aleister', plus the cover of 'Dark Sorceress (Autumn Siege)', though these don't take themselves too seriously. 'The Goddess of Doom' is quite clearly intended to be humorous, what with half the lyrics being about Christina Ricci (named) and the other half listing RevBiz's favourite doom bands, though it manages to pack in a decent performance from the band that makes it more than a vehicle for parody. The Barathrum cover seems to be sincere, since the band stick reasonably close to the black doom style of their compatriots, but some of the vocals (not to mention the lyrics of the original) edge close to being funny, making me wonder if there isn't a tongue in someone's cheek. 'Aleister' is doomy enough, packs a few brooding riffs, and seems to be about old Mr Crowley, but even that develops into a Sabbath-flavoured riff partway through and disappointingly amounts to little.
The only song that might legitimately represent the Reverend Bizarre that released three full-lengths is the closing 'The Wrath of the War Elephants'. While I initially feared a repeat of the intro track, this actually ups the energy considerably for a bass-stomping gallop of reasonably serious proportions, which doesn't waste much time, has a few nice riffs, and also pops a strange keyboard solo in the middle. This is the problem with this release and the reason why it must be an EP despite its lengthy running time. Simply put, the tracks just aren't up to the fierce standard of their albums: they aren't even up to the standard of a regular EP. This is an odds and sods collection if I ever saw one, which excuses the wayward tone and scattered themes, though doesn't save it from being sometimes poor and boring.
However, we have to look at these songs from a different perspective. 'The Festival' and ',,,Land of the Shadows' aren't poor, just shockingly lightweight for the Finns. They both possess a similar emotion resonance to the devastating 'In the Rectory' from the debut, though more with music than with words, and more with gentleness than heaviness. 'Land of the Shadows', in particular, possesses a similar quality to some of Burzum's ambient work: seemingly simple, its pulls the listener in at low intensity and holds the attention from then on. Neither can be listened to with a mind to instant gratification, but must creep up stealthily, just as 'Goddess of Doom' transforms from wry riff-juggernaut into a genuinely compelling anthem towards its close. The truth is that some of these songs are decent, yet within this EP they lose something - certainly atmosphere, but almost their relevance, too - that they would gain from being situated in a more focused album or heard alone as singles. Don't be fooled, this isn't essential, but it's more interesting than you might believe at first.
If you buy their debut chances are high you'll find Return to the Rectory enclosed. While this is labeled officially as being a EP, it hardly looks like one with a play-time reaching again over 60 minutes. Return to the Rectory starts off with a immensly heavy droney track that goes by the name of March of the War Elephant. A suitable title if you ask me. It serves as a good intro and prepares the listener for a heavy onslaught of delicious doom. After the rather heavy starter things take a more mellow turn when The Festival kicks in. The first two minutes an acoustic guitar serves as the perfect intro and helps create the mystical ambiance in which The Festival is drenched. Even when the acoustic guitars are replaced by electric ones it never loses its mellowness and creates a very gentle atmosphere complemented by the charismatic voice of Albert. The Festival takes a noticeable turn at around 6 minutes when things again get quite heavy mainly due to some shattering bass lines. Albert also puts a little more power behind his voice. A little bit further an excellent and as quite often is the case with Reverend Bizarre emotional riff enters the mix. Meanwhile Albert lets loose of the words "Oh Lord, have mercy on my soul" further enhancing the melancholic ending of The Festival.
Goddess of Doom starts off with a bang and some serious kickass bass-lines. Goddess of Doom has a lyrical content which is just awesome. First time I heard Albert singing about Christina Ricci I was stupified! But then I remembered Sleepy Hollow and well she may just be a fitting Goddess afterall! Goddess of Doom most of the time progresses in a more up-tempo fashion with some slower sections in between and the usual excellent pack of riffs. After the first half, Goddess of Doom takes take again an interesting turn in the lyrical departement as Albert begins singing about more than a handful of Doom bands (Saint Vitus, Warning, Candlemass and Witchfinder General amongst others) before letting them all kneel at the altar of the almighty Goddess of Doom, Christina. Brilliant! It ends with Albert blessing the Goddess followed by again a more up-tempo part marking the ending of one of the hightlights of Return to the Rectory. The second part of Return to the Rectory remains of equal standard with some surprises ahead. As always Reverend Bizarre delivers quality and a more than enjoyable slab of doom.