Man, I do love me some Blut Aus Nord. Ever since their landmark 2003 album, The Work Which Transforms God, the rebellious French “trio” (are they actually a band?) set a new standard for uncomfortably cold, ridiculously unpredictable black metal, inspiring future robe-wearers of the world to put down their torches and pick up a copy of Streetcleaner on vinyl. One such band to follow in their grimy footsteps is Belgium’s Cult of Erinyes, who have returned with their second album (and fourth overall release since their inception in 2009), Blessed Extinction. Have these upstarts taken the tools given to them by Vindsval and company to usurp the throne from the French masters of the frozen arts?
Not quite. Musically, though, Blessed Extinction has a lot going for it. Second track “Jibaku” throws a major curveball about halfway through the song, as the rhythms slow down, the fretless-sounding bass comes out, and multi-instrumentalist/band mastermind Corvus lets loose one of the most tantalizing guitar solos put to record in any genre of metal music, channeling the ghost of Chuck Schuldiner and putting an icy spin on his influence. “The Vaslov Notes” crawls midway, and features a duet of sorts with Enthroned’s Phorgath, his deep bellows providing a cool contrast to vocalist Mastema’s screaming. “Unspoiled Beauty”, with its 6/8 waltz feel, whispered vocals, and atonal riffing, truly nails that feeling of uneasiness, truly making me feel like I should shower after listening to it.
The big problem, though, comes from opening track “From the Shattered Skies”. The song starts off strong: cold, tremolo-picked goodness, throat-tearing screams of pained anguish, more-than-capable drumming… and then comes the clean vocals. Oh lord. Look, I don’t have a problem with clean vocals at all. Blind Guardian’s Hansi Kursch is a God amongst mortals. A.A. Nemtheanga of Primordial can inspire pain, anguish, and triumph like few can, usually all at the same time. Mastema has one of the sickest black metal screams out there, but his clean performance reminds me of My Dying Bride’s Aaron Stainthorpe during the weaker songs in MDB’s huge catalog. While not in and of itself bad, it totally throws you out of the feel of the song, and even after repeated listens, it’s still jarring and weird, and not in that cool “HOLY FUCK, WHAT JUST HAPPENED?” sort of way. The cleans on “Drunken Cities” are a bit better, as his timbre fits the song more. It helps that it’s a better song overall with a middle part that reminds me of Rotting Christ’s latter work. I truly wish they would play up to his strengths a bit more by letting him screech and howl (which he is phenomenal at) while getting another person to sing.
Production-wise, Blessed Extinction is a bit loud sonically. I love my metal loud, don’t get me wrong, but everything blurs if not done correctly. I’m still having a hard time figuring out if that really is a fretless bass used on “Jibaku,” as it feels lost in the mix due to the sheer high volume of, well, EVERYTHING on this record. Yes, it’s bizarre to say that about bass on a black metal record, but when a black metal band makes me ask that question in the first place, they must be doing something right as musicians.
Cult of Erinyes put out a very ambitious record in Blessed Extinction. While they don’t quite nail the lofty heights set forth by Blut Aus Nord or Darkspace, they have some solid ideas and stellar musicianship. If they can land a better mix or hire a separate clean vocalist to channel their darkness on their next go-around, they will definitely hit that level. For now, I would advise keeping an eye on them in the future.