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Below-average release from a black metal great - 53%

MrMetalpants, January 1st, 2018

I've been a Belphegor fan for awhile and love their live performances. Bondage Goat Zombie was my favorite modern Belphegor release in that it had the perfect amount of speed, technicality, flair, and brutality. Modern Belphegor peaked for me right there. The next couple albums take a step down from previous releases and Totenritual follows suit.

The band keeps their unique sound going on here, which I enjoy immensely, but the problem is the writing. There are pieces of each song that stand out but as whole, the vast majority of songs are bland. Like for example the song "Swinefever - Regent of Pigs" has some crushing rhythms (I was pleasantly surprised to get that from Belphegor) but I have not much desire to re-listen to it more. As of this writing I just completed the third listen-through of the album with a few repeats of the songs I like more and going into the fourth feels like a bit of a chore. They are hitting all the marks they set on previous releases with their extremely unique sound but with less challenging compositions. I think milder is another apt adjective. It's a solid release for their core fan base, but I don't think it will do much for the uninitiated.

There's a very strong performance out of the lead guitar complete with more than a few enjoyable solos. The effect used on it helps hone in their sound we've come to know and love. The drum work has taken a back seat and isn't as unique or as varied as other releases. It keeps time and is passably fast but just stays with the formula for the genre. I know more can be achieved with the drums. The high vocals sound the same as we've heard before, thankfully, because the low-end growls are changed up on this release. Not by an unforgivable amount, but enough to make the experience slightly different.

Overall, this is an average entry into Belphegors discography. It will please fans of the band. It makes me still hopeful for further releases from them.

Favorite tracks:
--Swine Fever - Regent of Pigs
--Apophis - Black Dragon
--Embracing a Star

Technical Skill: 72% Originality: 45% Song writing: 40% Production: 55%

A Triumphant Return - 83%

CannibalCorpse, December 13th, 2017

The last few years have shown quite a few turbulences within the Belphegor camp.

First and foremost, Helmuth Lehner's serious illness has had a rather aggravating impact on the man's vocal chords and overall performance. Hence, the last record - Conjuring the Dead - prolonged a series of a rather weak string of releases. Maybe it was just too early for a striking return after such a life-threatening occurence.

To be honest, I've not followed Belphegor too closely since the release of Walpurgis Rites, which showed the band developing a dull groove component while dropping their trademark dual tremolo melodies, my main reason for becoming a fan about 12 years ago. It was not until I stumbled upon a YouTube feature, displaying a bunch of new rhythm guitar riffs - performed by Sir Hellmuth himself in the studio - that I felt the urge to explore more samples of their new material.

The tone was DIFFERENT. These riffs did not sound like 3rd-rate rehashes from older, more glorious days, instead, they felt more inspired and had a different, darker feel to them, achieved through dissonant sprinkles within the death-metallish main riff (Baphomet). Fortunately, the band had a lyric video out for said song, so I could experience it in full.

By now, Hellmuth appears a lot more confident with his new and deeper vocal tone (surgery in 2012) and rarely has he sounded this commanding and brutal. While his range has indeed diminished and higher screams have become a scarce entity, commitment and experience shine through his tone, especially in terms of syllable articulation and timing (both of which have been unusually sloppy on the last album). This loss of range has been compensated well enough by Serpent's high shrieks, which work just fine, especially when layered on top of Hellmuth's more brutal voice. It might not be as clear and distinctive as before, but fits the album accordingly.

Something that ist quite unusual for a blasphemous posterchild like Belphegor is a certain change of focus in lyrical direction. No need to worry - Satan still rules supreme - but maybe in a more elaborate, playful manner (Embracing A Star tells us how every individual is connected to the prime evil through the pentagram, feeding it) as well as putting the act of dying (and how we - mankind - deserve it) more into the spotlight (Spell of Reflection/Totenkult). Overall, these well-written words add a lot to the dark and oppressing atmosphere of Totenritual.

In addition, the production job has been done very well - the guitars are crisp, fat and brutally effective, especially in the low end. The bass is audible and punchy. Drums don't drown out everything else and the snappy snare drum takes the lead, just how I like it. This time, the overall quality of the production engineering might be the most consistent of their career.

Consistency does not end here, though. From start to finish, there's not a single below-average track to be heard. The crushingly heavy opener Baphomet leads into the frenetic and highly melodic blasting of The Devil's Son which feels somewhat reminiscent of the Lucifer Incestus/Goatreich Fleshcult days, but less refined and more brutal - more like being murdered by a blunt sledgehammer than by a sharpened sword. Indeed, Swinefever and (to a lesser extend) Apophis are not quite on the same level in terms of quality, but starting with the chorus of Totenkult and the creepy atmospheric intro Totenbeschwörer, leading into the heavy-weight-crusher that is Spell of Reflection, we jump right back into master-class territory - and remain on this level of quality until the very end of the record.

So if you - like me - were disappointed with the last decade of Belphegor's history and turned your back on them, it's now time to reconsider. In case you are new to the band and their exploits, this might not be the best starting point, since their prime - the essential core of their blackened death metal sound - was established somewhere between Lucifer Incestus and Pestapokalypse VI - so better start off there.

Belphegor are back in 2017, delivering their heaviest, strongest and most consistent album since Pestapokalypse VI and I can't wait to hear more quality output from Hellmuth, whose improved health status will hopefully remain intact for many years to come.

...creating and growing - within my own skin...

Superb Blackened Death Metal - 94%

SickeningDisplayOfViolence, November 17th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, CD, Nuclear Blast (Limited edition. Deluxe edition, Digipak)

I love seeing extreme acts from the 90s continue to thrive into nearly the third decade of the new millennium. Simply warms my ancient bones. Belphegor are masters of their craft, and this is demonstrated astutely with this year's Totenritual, which has situated itself neatly in my top ten releases for 2017.

To begin, the mixing and mastering on this album is Belphegor's finest yet. If you have a nice car stereo or a confined space with quality speakers, those are ideal environments for listening to this record. It's got a modern sound to it, but still retains a very nice touch of old school rawness to it, especially in the guitar and snare tone. I struggle finding anything to complain about in regards to production quality; the bass is audible but not overbearing, and laid neatly on top of the drum track, and the guitars are exactly where they should be. My one semi-complaint is the overuse of vocal layering. It's really not necessary as much as this band seems to think, and although the technique is overused, it's still very well done.

Moving on: song structure / composition. Belphegor really manage to keep things interesting all throughout this album by incorporating such elements as gaps in the guitar track to let the bass or drums shine through, but only at the exact right moment, just before the riff or phrase gets stale. Perfect examples of this are Baphomet, Spell of Reflection, and Embracing a Star. Another great element is the occasional use of acoustic guitar at certain moments throughout, such as the end of The Devil's Son. Unlike death metal / grindcore outfit Aborted, who also absolutely love using old horror movie samples, Totenritual keeps them short and sweet at the beginning of certain tracks, and they never overstay their welcome.

I also have to express my adoration for the extremely adept use of chants peppered throughout the album, such as in Apophis: Black Dragon. They're perfectly executed, and they support the positively evil imagery being painted by the riffing and lyrical concepts. When done right, I firmly believe that blackened death metal is the perfect concoction for the most sinister sounds that extreme metal is capable of producing. Many parts of this album are very reminiscent of Behemoth's Zos Kia Cultus or Demigod; lightning fast blast beats with airtight tremolo picking to accompany.

As a final addition to this long-winded review, the stunning artwork for this album makes the physical copy something very special to behold. It truly goes to show the care and attention that went into the making of this record, and I highly suggest getting your hands on one.

Technical execution, songwriting, and sound engineering are top quality. If you haven't, pick up this fucking masterpiece and blast it.

Occult Black Metal - 85%

SamaelBeThouMyAlly, October 20th, 2017

Every down-tuned power-chord off this album sounds like a Satanic ritual. Belphegor brings streamlined, intense tracks that help me forget the mechanical riffs of their previous 4 albums. The album also feels much more like an actual black metal album than Conjuring the Dead, which had a lot of grinding Cannibal-Corpse type riffs.

The largest change in Belphegor’s sound is the heavy down-tuning of guitars, making the album sound more like Gorguts and less like goth-influenced metal such as Dimmu Borgir. Belphegor has always played a combination of dissonant black metal and chugging death metal, but the mix in this album feels very organic. The cheesy orchestral elements that have been cropping up are also removed, making the album sound deeper and more mature. The new drummer, Bloodhammer, crystallizes the effect by bringing razor-sharp precision to the drumming - drumming in Belphegor's prior recent albums is noticeably dull and predictable by comparison.

Songs flow more naturally than Belphegor's recent work. Streamlined intros and more memorable hooks make the tracks easier to grasp onto - it feels as if the band is delivering a message with urgency and drive, each riff pulling into the next. The use of ripping, emotive guitar solos, especially in the faster-paced tracks contributes to the infernal energy.

The band has also made some important lyrical changes that likely caused some of the musical ones. This album introduces an occult element of Thelema, pivoting from their previous sexual/horror focus (think Sexdictator Lucifer). The obvious example is the first track, Baphomet. It speaks to the spiritual power of the demon over God, using Behemoth-style imagery "your world a grain of sand / I am the endless desert". I wonder if this also represents a change in the band's personal philosophy to some extent. Increased intelligence is further shown by actually using sentences to communicate, not just streams of phrases. That also makes the hooks more memorable and driven. Belphegor employs this style to declare an existential, occult triumph with these tracks, not chemical warfare. As the former themes are actually more interesting, the music also becomes more energetic.

Overall, those changes are fairly minor, just correcting some mistakes made in Belphegor's last couple albums. Most of the songs do have a more symbolic, powerful meaning beyond chilling horror or sexual depravity, and the guitar solos have genuine emotion. But it's still Belphegor's commercialized and slightly shallow breed of black metal.