Dødsengel – Bab Al On Review

Just in case you’re not familiar with left-hand-path magic, I’ll introduce the subject of Dødsengel’s Bab Al On. Babalon is a Thelemic goddess embodying both female sexuality and motherhood. Variously depicted as an abstract archetype of licentious liberation, a ‘sacred whore’ astride the demonic Great Beast, and a deity of incarnation and destruction, she essentially stands against the patriarchal ideal of order in her chaotic physicality. Dødsengel dedicate their fifth full-length to this (un)holy mother, with an iteration of their already obscure and restless black metal as strange as it is compelling. The Norwegian duo have always been a tad unorthodox in their style, though have stayed just on one side of ‘totally bizarre.’ Previous outing Interequinox left Treble Yell musing that their lack of total commitment to the weird held them back from greatness. It may not go all the way, but in this respect, Bab Al On is certainly a step in the right direction.

Those who thought the vocal variation on previous records was wild have got another thing coming with Bab Al On. It is in this area—Kark’s vocals—that the pair have most notably amped up the oddity, and it’s certainly striking. With inhuman shrieks (“In the Beginning”), ardent wails (“Bursting as Boils from the Backs of Slaves”), and genuinely beautiful singing (“Agnus Dei”), he is the demented voice of the twisting, turning visions.. Not to overshadow the powerfully beating, sometimes racing—black heart of the ceremony, Malach Adonai’s percussion. Yet in many ways, this album really does feel like a performance, as on a theatre stage, or before a ritual altar, the discordant guitars and hypnotic rhythm a backdrop for the spiritual conduit’s declarations. For quite a lot of the music itself here is relatively straightforward, with stylistic strayings into doomier and post-metal flavors smoothly transitioned to, or relegated to their own songs. So the mutating vocals take center-stage, driving the weirdness and the bulk of the album’s arresting quality.

If it was Dødsengel’s intention to make me feel thoroughly unsettled, then they’ve succeeded. Straight away the low, ominous chanting that opens proceedings on “Ad Babalonis Amorem Do Dedico Omnia Nihilo”1 foreshadows an eeriness that the band 100% deliver on. The hypnotic chanting surfaces with redoubled uncanniness in the void-like atmosphere of “Annihilation Mantra,” slipping into strangely distorted whispers. The song’s unnervingly sinister energy enhanced by the contrast it brings to the preceding unhinged “In the Beginning.” On that point, the snarl-to-shriek vocal approach in that track and elsewhere (“The Lamb Speaks,” “Bursting as Boils from the Backs of Slaves,” “Abomination Gate”) is very creepy. Not to mention the high-pitched wails of uncomfortable ardor (“Hour of Contempt”) echoing over the unfriendly tremolos. Perhaps the most intense is “Dies Irae,” with guest Hand’s vocals gradually intensifying from breathy singing to growling spoken-word. Unaccompanied save the rising rumbles of thunder, and dropping out for a melancholic string refrain. All this is amplified to piercing intensity by the—for black metal—anomalously spacious dynamic range that allows the instrumentation to fully envelop, and the frightening calls, chants, and screams to feel just inches away in their immediate presence.

Enhancing the horror is the splicing in of elements of strange beauty amidst the abrasive. Aforementioned “Annihilation Ritual” carries a mysterious allure. “Agnus Dei”‘s delicate singing and soft plucking, while there’s something uncanny about them, are hauntingly beautiful. The slowly twisting, sinister melodies and blackened doom climax of “In the Heart…” are not ‘pretty,’ but strangely intoxicating, drawn on by the demented snarls of our narrator. Final “Abomination Gate” draws it all together with the intermingling of truly terrifying croaking whispers and screams, and mournful strumming. Of course, being so generally unsettling, Bab Al On can be a little daunting in its seventy-two minute length. I would forgive many for balking at the intense and often abrasive vocals. But the latter is central to Dødsengel’s concept and style, and it works, even if it does take getting used to. More egregious is the relative straightforwardness of the actual black metal. Throwing in some wilder melodies might have elevated things further. Then again, perhaps that really would have been ‘too much.’

Bab Al On ultimately succeeds because it communicates its concept with arresting convincingness. Moreover, it flows well. Better, even than Interequniox. Dødsengel’s focus on a dramatic and sinister ritual allows oddities and normalcies, harshness and beauty come together in a perverted yet fitting manner. Ad Babalonis Amorem Do Dedico Omnia Nihilo.

Rating: Very Good
DR: 12 | Format Reviewed: 320kbps mp3
Label: Debemur Morti Records
Website: dodsengel.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: December 16th, 2022

Show 1 footnote

  1. R.I.P my word count.
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