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It's a Black Mass, and I'm ready to go!! - 82%

severzhavnost, April 10th, 2013

This is really eerie stuff! Blood Ceremony should definitely be ranked among the vanguard of today's '70s psychedelic-doom wave. The retro revivalist game can be tricky, as you risk coming across as nothing more than a cover or tribute band. But these Canadians pull it off convincingly. Those of us who were not around for first-hand experience of the originals like Black Sabbath and Uriah Heep should be thankful that it's being brought back with sincerity.

Sean's guitar leads are an absolute time warp. Due to modern equipment, the tone lacks the old-time graininess, but the composition makes up for it. If you were unaware of the band's age, I could tell you this 2011 debut is a 40th anniversary reissue of itself, and you'd believe me. "I'm Coming With You" especially features a menacing three-note riff straight out of classic Sabbath. (Note: don't read that as a claim of plagiarism!) You'll also be reminded of the metal godfathers' eponymous song toward the end of "Rare Lord", where the slow melody suddenly picks up the speed. The guitar work is just very 70s, in that it's meant to guide the tune without obnoxiously dominating it, as per the flashy hedonism of later decades. Even the solos are classically organic to the overall songwriting. For best examples, see the instrumental passages of "Into the Coven" and "Rare Lord". Mr. Kennedy fully uses these chances to show his considerable skill, all while sharing the spotlight with Alia O'Brien's flute. 

This flute will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Jethro Tull, except I'd say Alia works it in free from any of Ian Anderson's arty pretension. It's more like a stand-in for Ozzy's harmonica. The lightness brought by the flute is a really trippy counterpoint to the band's occult themes and slow guitar riffs. The effect is an enhanced, oddly enjoyable out-of-your-mind experience. Alia also plays the chilling organ intro to the first track. Perfect way to lure you into the album! God I miss the organ in heavy music... and no, it was not welcome when Borknagar stuffed it into their prog-ass black metal! That didn't feel retro, it was just forcing ten pounds of dung into a five pound bag. 

Beyond her instrumental pieces, Alia is also the band's singer. And she does a lovely job. Her voice is strong and clear, with a certain airy, dreamlike quality that ideally suits the escapist lyrical themes. She just sounds like she rely enjoys what she sings about. A very genuine performance. You might like her to show a higher range, but I like her soothing stability. It complements the sense of drifting away in your mind.

The rhythm section of Lucas on bass and drummer Michael are notable presences as well. With slow tunes, it can be hard for a drummer to stand out, but he fradually works in more subtle displays of high-level technique as the album progresses. Look for his cymbal work on the closing song, as well as a great drum and bass fill in "Children of the Future". Bass aficionados, Lucas gets other moments to shine too. In general, the longer songs such as "Return to Forever" and "Hymn to Pan" have more complex bass lines. That last one is the album's heaviest song, due in large part to a slow, yet truly monstrous bass rhythm. 

If your Witchcraft albums are looking kinda lonely on the shelf, go pick up this great bit of Canadian retro-doom. Then vodka up your coffee, watch "1408" with the sound muted, and pop Blood Ceremony into the CD tray. Sit back and enjoy!