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A fantastic French Black Legions recording we've got here and if it were better known it would qualify as a classic black metal album. Two of the best known bands in the Black Legions scene in southern France whose members often worked together in various side projects with often wacky names like Dzlvarv, Mogoutre and Susvoutre yet as Vlad Tepes and Belketre produced very different styles of black metal come together on this split record of sheer raw power and high energy and, in Belketre's case, the most evil vibes. There really is something here for every self-respecting tr00 and kvlt believer as the bands are almost the opposite of each other in their approach to song-writing and improvising on the spot, the way they treat elements like atmosphere, how they use their instruments and what they wish to emphasise.
What we get with Vlad Tepes is an exuberant rollicking black metal with some traditional heavy metal elements such as guitar solos and catchy melodies that you can almost dance to plus spot-on percussion work. The music is fiery and attacking on all fronts and there are many strong melodies and riffs. The first track "Wladimir's Song" is a short intro that reminds me of a children's nursery tune but I forget what that one was. Skip two tracks to "Drink the Poetry of the Celtic Disciple" which is an amazingly varied and multi-paced epic with many folk music tunes and rhythms and which continues to throw up new guitar solos and riffs right up to the very end. Yours truly hopes beyond hope that there is a video of Vlad Tepes performing this and other songs in a live situation or similar lying somewhere in someone's cupboard or in a cavern deep in a chateau in need of someone to unearth it and release it upon the unsuspecting world. All the songs revolve around war, massacre and enslavement meaning lots of thumping war drums, driving music, a thrilling ambience and (a real bonus for Black Legions recordings) a clear sound that gives the music a lot of depth. The one downer is that sometimes the singing gets lost in the barrage of music and could have done with being more upfront in the mix but this is a minor criticism as the music is well-crafted and the guys play with a lot of feeling and joy and pride in their musicianship. I'm not all that fussed that a lot of this music has old school heavy metal features, I know it is contrary to the bands' assertion in the CD sleeve that black metal mustn't be mixed up with other styles of heavy metal but if other styles of music actually enliven the black metal, well it's the guys' prerogative to mix it up provided they're prepared to eat their words.
You'd think that Vlad Tepes would be a hard act to follow but incredibly Belketre upstage their friends with music that has a distorted shitty sound, hissy and complementing the reptile vokillz and the hate-filled lyrics well. The drummer attacks his cymbals and tom-toms with demonic aggression and the very atmosphere surrounding the guys reeks of acidic life-sapping clouds of whiny guitar. The singing packs in the venom of a thousand cobras and mambas and spews it out in long drawn-out shrieks and yowls. The musicians also delve into experimental ambient soundscapes which have to be heard to be believed: "Hate" is an amazing recording of a slumbering dyspeptic tyrannosaur demon beast; "If We Had ..." features a choir of Cthulhu-related fiends chanting and echoing one another in a horrible bastard language; "Despair" is a doomy all-guitar affair that drags down the spirit. However Belketre can also crank out tracks like "Night of Sadness" which has strong rhythms and melodies, mournful guitar tones and demonic vokillz on the verge of a breakdown. There is not a single filler piece in Belketre's half of the split, every track reveals a new weapon in the duo's seemingly bottomless arsenal and no matter how weird and eccentric the music becomes, the guys play with confidence and gusto.
I happen to prefer Belketre's side but don't let that stop you from thinking Vlad Tepes is better: both bands offer music of a high and consistent standard and they both believe in what they are doing with no irony. If you like your BM to have stirring martial tunes with lightning-fast guitar runs, catchy melodies and high octane aggression and relentless attack, you'll get all this with Vlad Tepes; if your taste runs to sick and hateful music with a primitive sound, poisonous ambience, corrosive singing and willingness to experiment, Belketre would suit you well.
These guys lay it on the line with their passion and belief in themselves and their cause. And their cause is delivering a class act (or two).