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Steerpike Would Be Proud - 80%

Cat III, June 17th, 2018

One of the finest aspects of the Gormenghast Trilogy is Mervyn Peake's prose. So bedecked with figurative language and transfixed with minutiae is his writing that I doubted whether his appeal would translate to non-native English speakers. Then I found that German musician Irmin Schmidt (of Can fame) composed an opera based on the books and here we have a Japanese metal band naming a song after Titus Groan, the first novel in the trilogy. Seems my suspicions may have been unfounded which is splendid news for readers the world over.

Velle Witch's virtues don't stop at good taste in literature. Blood Noblewoman may have been released in the late 80s, but its clearest antecedent is early Black Sabbath with nods to doom metal as it had developed since the middle of the decade. While no slouches with their instruments, the band neither shoot for commercial accessibility nor musical extremity, instead focusing their powers on crafting atmosphere. And this album oozes atmosphere, whether it's the ominous, plodding riffs of the first track or the anxious staccato of the third. Rather than the blackest dread many metal bands try to evoke, Velle Witch goes for something more subtle: a small but unshakeable sense of foreboding. Luckily, like heavy metal's pioneers, they also have a knack for rocking. “You're Posseed [sic] by Witch” eventually breaks into a gallop with a trace of the triumphant in the riffing. Final track “ローゼンクライツ” is fast right out of the gate, though keep in mind this is a relative term. It's not blistering, though its hook is prime material for headbanging.

Vocals are the factor in music best poised to divide listeners. Furuya Yukie's singing is the kind to elicit reactions along a binary. Her abundant use of vibrato is undeniably unique, but feelings towards that uniqueness will either be love or hate. Personally, I find her voice adds a welcome touch of the strange. Infrequent gang vocals also add spice. Blood Noblewoman isn't flawless. All four songs end abruptly. While I appreciate the slow burn of “Titus Groan”, shortening it a bit would cut down on the tedium without harming the song. On the upside, considering this is a demo, the production is awesome. The drums are booming and the bass tone has been pumping iron.

Info about Velle Witch is next to nonexistent. Searching online reveals little beyond the fact they existed and released this demo along with appearing on two compilations (only one of the three tracks on those comps, “Endure”, is not also on here). It's a shame they didn't press on. Imagine the full-length LP they could concoct in a studio with a proper budget. Twenty-two minutes is slim for this genre and Blood Noblewoman leaves me wishing for more. Here's some music screaming for a reissue. Hell, if we're dreaming, why not a band reunion.


Note: “ローゼンクライツ” is translated by Google as “Rosenkleighs” and Bing as “Rosenkrites”, neither of which are words, leading me to believe it's a transliteration of Rosenkreuz, surname of the supposed founder of the mystical secret society of Rosicrucianism, or the character Rosencrantz from Hamlet. Neither program is able to identify “S'esebettre” and an internet search only yields results about Velle Witch.