Hack comedians, when they have nothing of value to say, pepper their routine with profanity and musings about their genitalia to shock the audience into laughter. Metal bands have, fortunately and unfortunately, far more options. Behemoth’s #ILYAYD disaster, and to a lesser degree the middling and overrated The Satanist, showed a band with nothing to say except “please listen to us, we’re still here and iconoclastic – also, buy our dog food!” Behemoth’s move towards a more rock-based sound made so-called “purists” mad, which was like crack for critics with nothing of value to say – championing something “controversial” and calling everyone who disagrees with them some stick-in-the-mud anachronism gets those sweet angry clicks which produce that delicious ad revenue with exponentially less effort than writing something of worth.
I bring up Behemoth because, as someone who disliked their last two bloated bores of records for the poor implementation (instead of the existence) of rock influences, Blaze of Perdition does a similar thing but, fortunately, does it well. The key to what’s happening here lies first in predecessor Conscious Darkness’ more forthrightly emotional moments, and secondly in the closing track “Moonchild,” which is a cover of English Goth-rock band Fields of the Nephilim. Unlike #ILYAYD which did pointless nonsense like include a children’s choir, The Harrowing of Hearts only incorporates influences into the music to better express the theme. To simplify, the theme is Christ as Judge, descending into the depths of a human heart. Interestingly, this is not some childish Seussian inversion of Scripture like the worthless “God = Dog” but a relatively accurate description of what judgment is. Per the Catholic Church’s Catechism: “Then will the conduct of each one and the secrets of hearts be brought to light…[f]ull right to pass definitive judgement on the works and hearts of men belongs to [Christ]…” Per Blaze of Perdition: “Heart serves here as…a source of our deepest and darkest desires, forbidden thoughts, fears… The Harrowing of Hearts puts us in Christ’s shoes on a metaphorical journey into one’s soul to face and come to terms with whatever it holds…”
As with the last two records, Blaze of Perdition is grappling with tough, mature themes like their countrymen Mgła. Like Mgła, Blaze of Perdition knows how to use repetition effectively, along with pained melodicism that doesn’t devolve into the overwrought. Those elongated and sparse melodies which characterized the last two records make an appearance quickly on opener “Suffering Made Bliss,” smartly making The Harrowing of Hearts familiar while introducing the listener to a more rock-based direction akin to the criminally underrated Reinkaos. “Transmutation of Sins” is another favorite of mine, with the driving chorus riff and the harmonies over top working in tandem to land a gut-punch every time it occurs. When it climaxes and those sparse, single-string melodies rear their head, the band’s relatively new direction is once again gloriously and effectively promulgated while not letting go of what preceded it.
In a sense, The Harrowing of Hearts may be Blaze of Perdition’s Reinkaos. It’s less explicitly rock-based than Dissection’s swansong, but absolutely within the same ballpark, both in terms of quality and intent. Like Mgła, Blaze of Perdition has developed a unique melodic voice through the lead guitars, meaning that it’s still recognizable as Blaze of Perdition as Reinkaos was recognizable as Dissection. The Harrowing of Hearts is the product of a confident band with something to say. It’s initially hard to pin down what emotion is being expressed throughout the record, but eventually this is revealed to be a resigned vulnerability. There’s no more hiding, no more outward piety and inner sin and vice; the worst of the man is revealed. And yet, here and there, glimmers hope; the best of the man is revealed as well. The Harrowing of Hearts expresses freedom, fear, guilt, relief, and pride simultaneously. That both the faithful and the faithless can derive something of value and have the theme and concept of The Harrowing of Hearts resonate with them speaks definitively to Blaze of Perdition’s high caliber as artists.
The production allows this artistry to shine through: the bass is fluid, creative, and active, the drums performed with unimpeachable skill and nuance, and the guitars frequently layered but never overbearing or overblown. The Goth-rock influences may alienate fans of black metal genre aesthetics, but Blaze of Perdition have employed these tools to aid them in expressing their theme, not to garner “mainstream” appeal. The Harrowing of Hearts is a special record, with a great theme and great content. Highly recommended.