When 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.
Coven‘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.
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)