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Black Metal Boy Scouts - 84%

lonerider, November 10th, 2008

British veteran melodic black metallers Hecate Enthroned often seem to be shrugged off as a kind of Cradle of Filth clone. I couldn’t say whether this reputation is justified or unjustified since I haven’t listened to enough Cradle of Filth or Hecate Enthroned to either discard or support this notion. What I did hear, however, tells me that at least on this EP, Hecate Enthrones are not quite as pompous and theatrical as Cradle usually are, relying more on the guitars to deliver the goods with some solid thrash riffs and the usual tremolo picking and buzz-saw strumming. Add to this the fact that there are no female vocals to be found on “Upon Promeathan Shores” and the result is a sound that, although the many parallels are undeniable, is rawer, heavier and less operatic than what Cradle of Filth have been known for lately.

The production values showcased on this record, on the other hand, are somewhat pedestrian and leave something to be desired. Particularly the drums come up short, with a rather lifeless snare sound and, even more glaring, double-bass pedals that lack substantial punch and come across as strangely dry, “clicky” and distant (though from what I can tell, the drums don’t appear like they were triggered). This wouldn’t be an issue if these guys were playing raw, Darkthrone-style black metal, but since their brand of black metal falls squarely in the melodic/symphonic variety, this is not exactly what you’re looking for. Apart from the drums the production isn’t all that bad, but it’s nothing to write home about, either—the guitars are also a little too dry and could use some more bite, and the bass, although this is to be expected for black metal in general, isn’t very prominent and rarely makes its presence felt.

As to the individual songs on “Upon Promeathan Shores,” they are all very solid and quality-wise range from good to pretty awesome. The album starts off nicely with a creepy satanic organ/keyboard intro (“Promeathea—Thy Darkest Mask of Surreality”) that sounds as if it were lifted directly from some 70s or 80s horror movie (think “The Omen” or stuff like that). Though keyboard intros in black metal are a dime a dozen, this one has always struck me as something special due to the atmosphere of dark solemnity and utter evil it invokes.

The first proper song is called “The Crimson Thorns (My Immortal Dreams)” and kicks the album off in rather spectacular fashion. Featuring plenty of blast beats, haunting keyboards, some extremely guttural grunts and a few nice tempo changes, this right here is textbook melodic black metal! Speaking of keyboards, they are virtually omnipresent throughout the album yet never get so overbearing as to drown out the guitars. Besides, the band fortunately decided to stick to “plain” keyboard sounds and eschew any orchestral samples, resulting in an overall sound that’s clearly more “melodic” than “symphonic” and, despite all the theatrical elements, never gets too corny. This track also provides firm evidence that the band’s lead vocalist has a highly variable voice enabling him to deliver Dani Filth-inspired high-pitched screams (the infamous “Mickey-Mouse-on-speed” vocals) as well as some very convincing and well-placed death metal-inspired gargled grunts.

Proper song number two, “A Graven Winter,” is extremely varied, omitting blasts but incorporating some catchy blackened thrash riffs, somber guitar leads, even more tempo changes and some whispered spoken word passages that seem to have been taken directly from Ye Olde Booke of Filth.

The following track, “To Feed upon Thy Dreams,” mainly sticks out because of the final one and a half minutes: at the 5:03 mark, the pace slows down considerably, acoustic guitars kick in and the rest of the song is carried by beautifully solemn guitar leads and some very impressive vocals that turn from mere whispers into some of the most emphatic black metal screams I have ever encountered. The melancholic, darkly romantic atmosphere conveyed by this section is one of sheer beauty and really stands out as one of the finest moments on this record.

Courtesy of some very swift drumming relying on lots of blast beats and effective double-bass pedaling, relentless buzz-saw guitars, frantic high-pitched screaming and spherical “satanic” keyboards, the final track before the subsequent outro, “An Ode for a Haunted Wood,” is at once the most extreme as well as probably the best song on this EP. If you can spare the time, you should also check out the video for this track, which should be available on any of the more popular internet video platforms. It features the band members hiking through said haunted wood, performing the odd satanic ritual here and there and filming their antics with a shaky handheld camera. If you ever wondered where the makers of “Blair Witch Project” got their inspiration from, this may well be it. Black metal boy scouts to the rescue! Aside from the unintentionally funny video, however, “An Ode for a Haunted Wood” is a definite highlight and saves the best for last. The ensuing “Through Spellbinding Branches (Deepest Witchcraft)”—what is it with these guys and their fascination with forests?!—serves as an outro that revisits the mood set by the intro and closes with the sounds of heavy rainfall and howling winds.

Overall, I find this EP to be a highly consistent affair with no weak songs and plenty of upside. If you’re not instantly turned off by everything resembling melodic/symphonic black metal and crave something comparable to (older) Cradle of Filth with a little less pomp and some added heaviness, then this may just be what you’ve been looking for!