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Incense and bitter mints - 87%

Liquid_Braino, May 29th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Rise Above Records

This whole retro occult rock/metal movement fronted by serpentine women is honestly pretty neat when I think about it, as it's a full-blown revival of a scene that never actually existed in the first place.

In Blood Ceremony's case, their format can be defined as being built around early Black Sabbath but with strong prog and folk influences from Jethro Tull. Lyrical inspirations linger in the vein of Black Widow and Coven's creepy narratives delivered by a sorceress. Concerning Lord of Misrule, Jefferson Airplane also comes to mind with the fuzzbox solos and mellower moments of psychedelia, yet, and here's where things get interesting, I also find myself comparing some of the riffs and beefy attitude to the kind of earthy heavy rock that bands like Bloodrock were pumping out in 1970.

So is this music a complete throwback to 1970? Not exactly, as some of the riff-work, such as those gracing "The Devil's Widow", channels a NWOBHM swagger, and certain moments like the driving music comprising the verses of the title track owe more to another retro scene, 90's stoner rock, than the 1970 forebears. Also, despite all the vintage sounding instruments and the spaced-out reverb-laden production, the drums, including the bass drum, are expertly mixed. Drums always suffered in the mix back in 1970 with few exceptions (basically John Bonham), so I'm glad Blood Ceremony didn't go "full-retard" as far as mimicking an era long past.

The most important aspect I can say about Lord of Misrule though is the increased quality of the band's songwriting over their early releases. As much as their debut had laid down the proper "lava lamps and skulls" vibe, the songs felt like mere exercises in capturing a spooky retro atmosphere. It was cool as a whole, but the individual songs lacked any of the catchiness that made Sabbath and Tull so memorable and timeless. With their newer material, the focus seems more on grooving melodies than vintage sounding equipment displays. For instance, "Flower Phantoms" not only sounds like some lost trippy nugget from 1968, but it could've actually had been a minor hit if it were released that year. It's a good song regardless of when it came out, and not just a good impersonation of a bygone phase in rock history.

Blood Ceremony still revels in the occult and pagan festivities, though the blatant Black Widow style odes to Astaroth and friends has tempered somewhat. There's also a fair amount of genre mish-mashing occurring, with the prog and folk tendencies practically on an even par with the band's early doom metal origins. Singer Alia is arguably still the main focal point, with her vocal delivery being sassy and with a bit of venom, but not shrill and overwrought like a possessed gypsy. Her flute and organ contributions flesh out the music in a natural sense, and by that I mean those instruments don't come across like unnecessary gimmicks for an "authentic throwback" feel. It helps in that the guitars themselves aren't particularly crunchy and sharp in nature, so the flute solos blend in seamlessly with the riffs rather than stand out comically above them. The rest of the musicians play well enough, but more importantly they keep things loose technically. For a band with occasional prog influences in their sound, they sure in hell don't behave in accordance with what typically defines progressive metal. The guitar solos also keep the retro spirit alive, as if dudes like Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie never existed.

Whenever I hear bands like this, I wonder just how cool it would've been if these sort of heavy occult doom acts with witchy babes wailing about the awesomeness of sacrifices and midnight rituals were all the rage back in 1970 when the "peace & love" rock scene of the late 60's flickered out into darker cynicism. Maybe there were a couple of acts that sounded like Blood Ceremony and The Devil's Blood that squirreled about back then that never got off the ground, or maybe not. Still, the fact that there’s a whole lot of these groups crawling out of the woodwork ages after the time of their direct influences is kind of neat, like some fucked up time warp or musicians thawed out of a frozen stasis after 35 years. With no shortage of these bands now plugging into tube amps and releasing swirly colored vinyl presses, Blood Ceremony remain as one of the top tier acts, with a sense of conviction that doesn't seem artificial whatsoever. They definitely aren't a bandwagon hopper, and they continue to evolve in a direction that matters only to them. But this shit is not just sincere, but really damn good, and while Lord of Misrule is not as heavy as something like their more Sabbath influenced Living with the Ancients release, the scope of the music is wider and the songs possess a stronger resonance. So like the best of those British blood and boobs period piece horror flicks released during the time of Sabbath’s debut, Black Widow’s Sacrifice and Jethro Tull’s Benefit, this album may be camp, but damn is it really cool camp.

Everlasting saturnalia. - 90%

Witchfvcker, March 28th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Rise Above Records

Conceived in 2006, on the eve of the occult rock revival, Toronto’s Blood Ceremony have torn themselves apart from the pack through rich combinations of psychedelia, folk rock, and frontwoman Alia O’Brien’s fondness for spirited flutes and organs. Their fondness of Hammer horror aesthetics and the dark side of the 60’s may be less novel, but nevertheless makes them a perfect crown jewel in Rise Above Records’ impressive roster. Three years have passed since the enthralling The Eldritch Dark was released, on which the band let their folk side take a front seat. With Lord Of Misrule, the midnight revelry makes a return in a collection of supremely addictive tunes, performed with the theatrical passion that has become a trademark of the band.

Jumping straight into the thick of it, “The Devil’s Widow” is an immediately brilliant addition to the Blood Ceremony canon. With an upbeat and punchy hook, a ferocious chorus, and a soft acoustic interlude before the final blow, the track feels like an amalgamation of the best parts of the band’s previous efforts. Similar things hold true for the title track, and the almost frustratingly catchy “Old Fires”, all three of which are instant earworms that somehow become better for each subsequent spin. Despite feeling like archetypical Blood Ceremony numbers, these songs are more tightly constructed around O’Brien’s voice, a worthwhile change considering this is her greatest performance yet. Having altered her vocals somewhat for The Eldritch Dark to better fit the folk rock overtones, Lord Of Misrule sees O’Brien move between those soft-spoken ditties to a far more intense performance in the blink of an eye, perfectly mirroring the dualistic nature that Blood Ceremony’s music has reached.

Improving upon past performances is well and good, but Blood Ceremony have pushed their sound in new directions with every new release. There’s a late 60’s hippie streak running throughout Lord Of Misrule, pushing the band into new territories when they’re not busy perfecting their core sound. The flower power atmosphere is an interesting departure from the band’s darker fare, and tracks such as “Loreley” lay closer to The Beatles than they to Coven or Black Widow. The change feels a little out of place at first, but the core of Blood Ceremony has always been midnight merriment and Hellfire Club-style pagan devilry, rather than dour-faced Satanism. Seen in light of the bacchanalian hedonism running through Lord Of Misrule, the lighter touch of these songs slot in neatly alongside the more overtly occult psychedelia.

Blood Ceremony have become experts at conveying diabolical debauchery and carousing as a jolly good time, without sacrificing substance, a feat that few other are able to pull off. With fantastic and relentlessly catchy tunes such as “Half Moon Street” and “Old Fires”, interspersed with tender balladry and flowery ditties, Lord Of Misrule might be the group’s finest album to date. Only in the past week I must have listened to the album 20 or 30 times, and will surely be cavorting with the satyrs, cultists, and blazing bonfires for many nights to come.

Written for The Metal Observer