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Macbeth’s downfall dons the black crown again. - 84%

hells_unicorn, February 1st, 2019
Written based on this version: 2019, CD, M-Theory Audio (Digipak)

It is both a blessing and a curse to be relegated to the shadow of another, but that is ultimately how most tend to approach the creature that is Hecate Enthroned. Their close association with Cradle Of Filth goes a bit deeper than their original lead vocalist Jon Kennedy handling bass duties for a brief spell in said band during the mid-1990s, which was itself a critical time for the U.K.’s somewhat late entry into black metal’s 2nd wave relative to their Scandinavian counterparts. The same general symphonic/gothic gloss has tended to adorn the sound of this long-running rival to Dani Filth’s twisted operatic brainchild, though this band has taken a more conservative approach to their craft that reminisces a bit more of how things were in the 1990s from a stylistic perspective, namely the raw and high speed fury matched by a mixture of guttural and sepulchral vocal ravings that defy comprehension; though production wise they have not been averse to polishing their presentation with updated studio wizardry and higher end orchestral sounds.

As if the similar stylistic trappings between this band and England’s arguably most infamous musical export since Black Sabbath weren’t overt enough, Hecate Enthroned’s cessation of studio silence after 6 years in Embrace Of The Godless Aeon also features the talent of former longtime Cradle Of Filth guest and brilliant soprano Sarah Jezebel Deva. Her contribution to this opus is a bit more modest in terms of scope, spanning a couple of songs at key points, but her soaring operatic wails provide a sense of consonant luster amid a sea of beastly ravings and machine gun drumming and do a fair job of rivaling Floor Jansen in the process. The male foil that she plays off of in Joe Stamps, who is likewise a new arrival to this outfit, brings a dual vocal assault that is a bit atypical for the sort of “beauty and the beast” vocal matchup one might expect, bottoming out in territory deep enough to put Frank Mullen on notice, while still showcasing the higher-pitched, incomprehensible goblin-shrieks that are characteristic of this style, bearing a closer similarity to Ihsahn and former Gorgoroth vocalist Pest than that of Dani Filth.

But for all of the extraneous elements that modify this package at the fringes, the basic structure and overall presentation here is one that is typical to what was common about 20 years ago when Old Man’s Child and Dimmu Borgir were just starting to rise above the krieg-obsessed sound of Marduk and Cradle Of Filth had not quite become a full-blown commercial force. Though arguably the strongest feature of this music is the drawn out songwriting and shimmering atmosphere with a heavily melancholy demeanor, underscored by the dreamy keyboards and liquid guitar sounds of “Whispers Of The Mountain Ossuary” and the dank and forbidding landscapes of the epic closer “Erebus And Terror”, this album is not one to be slavishly tied to depressive atmospheric devices and come with plenty of battle-driven riffs and explosive drumming. Baring the updated production value and all the clarity that it provides, the high octane explosion of spiritual darkness that is “Revelations In Autumn Flame” is about as overt of a throwback to Emperor’s signature sound on In The Nightside Eclipse as could possibly be concocted by any symphonic black metal outfit.

Even when getting beyond the straight up blinding fury of the first couple of songs that chase this album’s obligatory instrumental prelude (another obvious nod to common practices from the late 1990s) and into the longer material, there is a consistent balance of auditory violence complementing the dense atmosphere that refuses to relent. Following a brief classically driven piano intro with Deva’s melodramatic vocal musings frolicking at the fore, the format of “Goddess Of Dark Misfits” does present some Cradle Of Filth-brand theatrical underpinnings, but mostly finds itself in territory equally suited to the rapidity and rage of Troll and Limbonic Art. Further flushing out some rather curious commonalities that this band happens to share with the latter aforementioned band’s obsession with things cosmic, “Silent Conversations With Distant Stars” goes into full blown Emperor-on-steroids mode in the same manner and somehow manages to make this spacey, keyboard-drenched sound work with Deva’s crooning lullaby work and rambling spoken asides.

About the only strike against this otherwise full blown throwback to what was arguably black metal’s better days is that things get a little too ambitious for its own good. It is a subtle flaw, but the album’s tendency to go longer with each successive song occasionally finds the band meandering a bit off the map, not to mention that the freeform structure of these songs and Deva’s almost ad-libbing presentation amid droning repetition makes it easy to lose one’s place. Generally speaking, Hecate Enthroned has tended to keep their songs more concise during their formative period in the late 1990s, and like their previous outing Virulent Rapture, this album goes for a more epic character minus the technical detailing that tends to go with it. This time around the band has a stronger command of this approach and find themselves with a collection of songs that should appeal greatly to Emperor and Dimmu Borgir fans, as well as the usual Cradle Of Filth enthusiasts, but long-term fans of this band will find a somewhat different creature than the one that first surfaced in 1995.

Originally written for Sonic Perspectives (www.sonicperspectives.com)