Here’s something I was really looking forward to! The Ruins of Beverast is a one man solo project from Alexander von Meilenwald, the former drummer of Nagelfar and sometimes drummer in Verdunkeln. Since the Unlock the Shrine debut, Meilenwald has taken his core blackened doom/death sound and increasingly melded it with grim atmospherics, odd, creepy-as-fuck ritual chanting and eerie church music to attain a type of epic horror movie music intended to unsettle and disturb the listener. Each subsequent release dug itself deeper into this construct or terror and unleashed longer, more drawn-out examples of the style, and while the music is the very height of “acquired taste”, it has a terribly compelling power that draws one back. I thought 2009s Foulest Semen of a Sheltered Elite took this approach about as far as it could while still maintaining the listener’s attention and that album was jam-packed with scary, but monumental black/doom moments (spin “I Raised This Stone as a Ghastly Memorial” to see what I mean). As the title will make apparent, Blood Vaults – the Blazing Gospel of Heinrich Kramer (Cryptae Sanguinum – Evangelium Flagrans Henrici Institoris), Meilenwald isn’t shying away from the lengthy and the arcane this time either. This is an insanely long, droning album dedicated to the 16th century church inquisitor who wrote large portions of the infamous textbook on witch hunting known as the Malleus Maleficarum (“The Hammer of Witches”). It’s loaded with sluggish, dirgy riffing and abrupt lurches into blast beat madness. Additionally, the album virtually drowns in foreboding and dread as Meilenwald borrows ideas from Agalloch, Helrunar, Lurker of Chalice, Verdunkeln, Darkspace and Celtic Frost while piling on with eerie chanting, strange background noises and evil church organs. It’s a long, harrowing and grueling listen, more a horror soundtrack than metal album at times and some of the songs are way too bloated and over-inflated. Still, more often than not the unrelentingly dark mood keeps you lurking about, even though you may need to take moss peeping breaks.
After the mood setting intro that smacks of rituals and evil doings, you get clobbered with the lengthy “Daemon” and its plethora of chanting, evil mutterings and rumbling mid-tempo black doom. It isn’t innovative, but it approximates what you’d likely hear in the anteroom of Hell. Far better is the Agalloch meets Celtic Frost brew of “Malefica” and “Ornaments of Malice” which both blend elements of The Mantle with the raw, doomy aggression Frost could generate in the early days. They manage to be beautifully dark and loaded with foreboding, and I could listen to them all day. If the rest of Blood Vaults was this good, it would be a modern classic.
Sadly, things aren’t quite consistent and epic length tracks like “Spires, the Wailing City” and especially “Monument” are just so long and droning that I cannot keep focused on what’s going on. “Spires” has several very cool moments and I love the Hellhammer-like riffing and odd war drumming that get sprinkled throughout, but the songs are just too overwhelmed and undone by their size and scope. Even “A Failed Exorcism” which I genuinely like, feels like it should have ended several times before it finally did (that’s known as Return of the King Syndrome in industry speak).
Unlike the older albums, Blood Vaults feels a bit more polished and less raw, though I know calling this “polished” is ridiculous. Still, it lacks the primitive punch of the earlier material. It also takes the formula that worked well on Foulest Semen and frequently stretches it out way past the limit of what the musical ideas can sustain. As I played and replayed this, I couldn’t help but compare it to the lengthy and similarly plodding Sol album by Helrunar, but that succeeded by frequently switching up the tempos and adding diverse dynamics. Blood Vaults keeps locking into a mood and droning on while beating the listener to death in a non-fun way. It also lacks the massively epic feel some older stuff had, even though the songs are longwinded in a truly epic way.
As a vocalist, Meilenwald has a solid death roar and a respectable black cackle. He can do the doom/death thing as well as anyone and he frequently sounds quite deranged and scary. I enjoyed many of his Agalloch-influenced, mournful guitar/bass parts and also his very Celtic Frost-ed heavy doom riffs. The drumming is pretty simple, but the ritual/war drum patterns that pop up are intriguing. In fact, I wish there were a lot more of them.
As The Ruins of Beverast albums go, this is a drop off, but still a pretty grand declaration of the grim and macabre. I surely can’t fault the atmosphere or freaky-ass vibe this thing gives off like radiation. If you feel the need to hammer witches and aspire to the title of Witchfinder General, this is as close to a book-on-tape for the Malleus Maleficarum as you can get. Listen and learn.
Rating: 3.0/5.0 — He has friends in crawlspaces…
Label: Ván Records
Release Dates: EU: 2013.09.20 | NA: 09.06.2013