Try as I may I can’t understand what’s so compelling about anti-Christian blasphemy in metal. Have bands not realized that the Satanic Panic ended in the last millennium? Do they think they’re actually offending anyone, or making any argument, no matter how hack, that hasn’t been made before? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that bands like American black-death blasphemers Profanatica should give up on their blasphemies against Christ. I just don’t understand how such ideals can animate good music, because said ideals are played out, hackneyed, tired, and lame. Nonetheless, there must be something down this tepid and shallow well of inspiration because The Curling Flame of Blasphemy is anything but played out, hackneyed, tired, and lame; on the contrary, it’s one of the best records of 2016.
Profanatica is the project of Paul Ledney, the drummer/vocalist who helped John McEntee found Incantation. He left before recording a full-length to form Profanatica and his solo project Havohej, the latter releasing the essential Dethrone the Son of God in 1993. Profanatica saw Ledney joining forces with John Gelso, who also plays in The Royal Arch Blaspheme, they of “being Profanatica but not as good” fame. Curling Flame is Profanatica‘s fourth full-length, and old fans will feel immediately at home with the sound here. Those new to the band are in for a treat, as the vile and primitive black metal heavily formed by Incantation’s death metal stylings in both structure and riffing is a refreshing and unique take on the genre. Gelso’s riffing here draws primarily on Incantation, Hellhammer, and Ledney’s work in Havohej, with Gelso’s use of pinch harmonics being as close to McEntee’s genius as we’re likely to see these days. The myriad of tremolo patters here are a wellspring of variety for those who pay attention, as Gelso employs Incantation’s more complex riffing, with the more droning melodies of early black metal.
The first thing I noticed about Curling Flame is the greater reliance on Hellhammer style riffing and general simplicity than its predecessor, 2013’s solid Thy Kingdom Cum. “Ordained in Bile” opens the record with some repulsive feedback that leads into a quality Warrior-esque pummeling before Profanatica’s signature black-death riffing appears, but the song really takes off when the verse kicks in. Ledney’s drumming hits ridiculously hard, and his abrasive screeches accentuate the heaviness of Gelso’s absurdly massive riff. It concludes with a massive contrast, an extended section that may well be the most conventionally and attractively melodic thing Profanatica has ever put to tape. While this may sound odd in writing the clear musical chemistry that exists between Ledney and Gelso seems to have reached the point where they just know what works, preventing the band from stagnating while engaging in failed experiments. At once, completely expected and unexpected, “Ordained in Bile” is a case-study in how to sound positively vital on your fourth record.
Curling Flame’s flaws boil down to not every track achieving an “Ordained in Bile” level of greatness, which is hardly a knock against its overall quality considering I just spent a paragraph trying to detail how great that song is. Profanatica’s musical vision is long established and adhered to, pardon the pun, religiously; “Magic and Muhr” is some seriously crushing doom that speeds up to some truly vicious black metal riffing that can be adequately described as a mid-paced lurch. “Bleed Heavenly Kingdom” is a varied track with a midsection that merges Incantation and Hellhammer in a great way, and the production helps significantly; Curling Flame sounds big and disgusting, which is exactly what the music demanded. The guitar tone is meatier than on previous records, and the bass is distorted and hugely present much like it was on Disgusting Blasphemies against God. Ledney’s drums are big, loud, and sound like they’re being perpetually pounded into near-oblivion. High-fidelity types won’t be impressed, but those with an appreciation of Profanatica’s sound certainly will be.
The Curling Flame of Blasphemy is a great record, one which stands out in sound and quality from a sea of boring metal. Profanatica doesn’t content themselves with mere imitation, gratuitous dissonant experiments, or anything less than forging ahead with their own established and effective sound. This is the type of record you’d expect to be released decades ago and influence a whole whack of bands, but Curling Flame came out sixteen years after the new millennium and nobody (save The Royal Arch Blaspheme) sounds like Profanatica. That’s fine, because Curling Flame continues to be great on each listen, making anything that endeavors to sound like Profanatica unnecessary; the real deal is all we need.