Cultes Des Ghoules - Coven, or Evil Ways Instead of LoveWhen I was a wee little Grymmling, I developed an addiction to peanut butter cups. I know, it’s hard to get addicted to the heavenly concoction of peanut butter wrapped in milk chocolate1, but as a kid, the flavor combination blew my mind. So when I was a teenager and worked my first job, I did what any respectable teen would do; I bought a fuck-ton of peanut butter cups and gorged on them. Needless to say, the stomach issues weren’t pleasant. That memory sprung to mind when I snagged Coven, or Evil Ways Instead of Love, the third full-length by Polish black metal weirdos Cultes Des Ghoules. I love peanut butter cups and black metal, but too much of either is sickening.

Coven was inspired by Master’s Hammer‘s 1993 concept album, The Jilemnice Occultist. Whereas The Jilemnice Occultist was a tale of witchcraft and romance, Coven eschews the romance portion entirely and instead focuses on witches and demonic possession. Opener “The Prophecy (Prologue)/Devell, The Devell He Is, I Swear God… (Scene I)” begins with crackling thunder, pouring rain, and vocalist Mark of the Devil rasping about the madness that is to come. “Madness” would be a great description here, as the song’s mammoth 22-minute length almost crushes itself. It journeys from a classic thrash sound with beefier bass to near-doom atmosphere, to a definitely-doom metal crawl, and ends with the best boogie riff ever penned by a band that’s not Cathedral. The only thing tying the song together is the maniacal vocals of Mark of the Devil, whose howls, screeches, wails, and chants give the song a much-needed flow. At 16:32, it sounds like he’s shouting “DAAAAYUUUUM!!!” like he knows how insane this is.

Yet despite the insanity, I grew to love the song after repeated plays. I wish I could say the same about the rest of the album, though. “Strange Day, See the Clash of Heart and Reason… (Scene III)” travels too slow for its own good with little in terms of variety, significantly dragging the pace of the album down. “Mischief, Mischief, the Devilry Is at Toil… (Scene II),” the shortest song on the album at almost twelve minutes, still feels weighed down by its lack of variety, despite good hooks here and there. But nothing compares to the 28-minute marathon that is closer “Satan, Father, Savior, Hear My Prayer… (Scene V).” With some of the riffs long outstaying their welcome, it’s the aural equivalent of traveling on a long, flat highway for hours at a time.

Cultes Des Ghoules 2017
‘s production feels remarkably warm and fuzzy. The bass remains prevalent throughout the album’s entirety. The drums thunder and roll with intent and clarity and the guitars possess the right amount of bite. Needless to say, it’s Mark of the Devil who steals the show, as his vocals sit above the mix but make the album listenable. Speaking of Mark, his lyrics read like poetry, telling the story of a woman who chooses the life of a witch over a predetermined married life. The amount of painstaking detail that went into his lyrics deserve mention. What also deserves mention, however, is the album’s length. Folks, these are five songs at an insane 96-minute total run time, and with the exception of the first track, none of these songs stand out on their own without crippling flaws. If you’re writing a concept album of that length, you need some variety, and Coven lacks in that department.

And that’s why I’m torn. I admire the work that went into the concept of Coven, but the actual execution leaves much to be desired. As a fan of Queensrÿche‘s Operation: Mindcrime and King Diamond‘s Abigail albums, I eagerly anticipated Coven with open arms. Instead, it left me staring at my watch every five minutes, and this album deserved better. Hell, even after reading the reviews it’s been receiving elsewhere, I wondered if there’s a disconnect between myself and Coven, but I already devoted almost two hours a day for a solid week trying to see where it lays. This is just entirely too much of a good thing.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps
Labels: Under the Sign of Garazel Productions (EU) | Hells Headbangers Records (NA)
Release Dates: 2016.10.31 (EU) | 02.17.2017 (NA)

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  1. And later dark chocolate, which is not only marginally healthier but tastes so much better.
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  • ashcindersmoke

    This is surprising since, like you said, this has been getting pretty good reviews around the web. I’ll give it a spin Friday to see if I like more than you did. Great review!

  • manimal

    07:30 – imagine having to reproduce that live, every evening of the week while on tour.

  • Danny

    Can we just stop making albums that are way too goddamn long? Please?

  • contenderizer

    I’ve listened to this several times in the last couple months, and while Henbane still stands as their unchallenged masterpiece, I think Coven’s excellent. Yes, it’s long — arguably way too long, both as a whole and track-by-track — no argument there. But if you relax into it like an extended narrative, putting aside the demand that it function as a traditional pop album, it works pretty damn well.

    That’s not to say it’s short on energy or hooks. Scene II, which you faulted for a lack of variety, I find intoxicating from beginning to end. Awesome “chorus” riff with taut stretches of mesmerizing groove strung in between. And Scene III is such a great series of builds. The slow, doomy bits do trudge, but in doing so, they clear space for the blasting fuzz that’s always lurking just around the corner. As soon as Mark gets to, “Should I turn to magic…if all else fails?”, I’m hooked every time. You’re right that he’s the MVP here, but the band matches him step for step.

    Suspect the album’s effectiveness will depend on your taste for loooong stretches of gnashtooth growling & bass-driven riff hypnosis, but that’s always been Les Cultes’ way.

    • Grymm

      And that’s the thing. On a singular track-by-track basis, Coven only works (for me, anyways) on the first song, where the twists and turns come out of nowhere. But as a collective whole, it doesn’t quite grab me. Partly because of the pacing of the album, but also because the length is just gargantuan.

      That said, the amount of care that went into Mark’s lyrics and performance is top-notch and a bit insane. Also, that bass tone is absolutely sick. Overall, though, it didn’t grab me as it should. I am, however, glad it’s clicking with yourself and others. And thank you for the comment as well!

  • Dudeguy Jones

    I couldn’t agree more!!! As a huge huge fan of Henbane I was positively gleeful to see this coming out. And even more orgasmic when it arrived months earlier than planned.

    But I can’t shake the feeling, it just loses my interest before the first songs over. Multiple attempts just don’t grab me. I figured I’d start with the next song, see if it grabs me. Nope. Diminishing returns with each song. Its a bummer. And meanwhile the rest of the journalistic public was frothing over it. So I’d keep going back.

    The album sounds great. And it does have plenty of individual riffs that are great. Yet nothing ever reaches the heights of Henbane or, to compare it to something more like it, Spectres Over Transylvania, which has a similar run time, yet never once feels like its dragging.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    These guys deserve kudos for the lyrical reference to Black Sabbath on the album title.

    • André Snyde Lopes

      Lord of this world! Evil possessor!

      Shit, now I have to listen to it.

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        I just did!

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    I was going to say how much this sounded like a Hell’s Headbangers or Iron Bonehead band going King Diamond, then realized it’s actually released on Hell’s Headbangers. So it’s actually a Hell’s Headbangers band going King Diamond. Nice. But they need Andy LaRocque nonetheless.

    • [not a Dr]

      Who doesn’t?

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Great review,
    I should’ve guessed you were talking about this one when you made your comment on the other other review.
    I’m so curious about this album. They’ve had it up on Tube for about 4 months now. When I first saw that it was 1 1/2 hour long I thought that maybe they had spacers in there… I was totally in half way through the first song but I’ve not been able to get through the whole thing cause it’s to damn long and I can only listen to Youtube at my computer.
    I’m going to buy the album though when it comes out on BC though. I want to have some solid headphones time with it.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    This album could literally be 1 hour shorter and twice as good. Some of the riffs just go on… and on… and on… and fucking on. And just when you think they can’t possibly keep going, they keep going on.

    It’s like a test. It’s a test… to the shit.