Ecclesia – De Ecclesiæ Universalis Review

The good old Inquisition was not humanity’s finest hour. I guess it’s all well and good to take religion seriously, if that’s one’s thing but it’s a bit presumptuous, I would suggest – perhaps with the benefit of hindsight – to go about torturing and burning thousands of people at the stake for either being insufficiently religious, not the right kind of religious or, in many cases, simply a woman. Still, putting the very real horrors of this extended folly to one side, the Inquisition does make for bloody good source material for a metal concept album. And so say French six-piece Ecclesia. To say Ecclesia have leant heavily into this theme would be something of an understatement: “Since its formation as a trio in 2016 this now fully formed army of French Inquisitors,” explains the prom blurb. Is Ecclesia’s debut record, De Ecclesiæ Universalis, a righteous slab of doom or should these Frenchmen be burned as heretics?

Hoping not to have to fetch my jerrycan, first impressions of Ecclesia were strong – after the obligatory concept-album intro, in this case “Excommunicamus,” featuring screaming women, chanting monks and braying horses – as first track proper, “Vatican III,” is a romping power-tinged doom number. Lead guitarist Julius Accusator lays down some galloping riffs and a few surprisingly tasty leads, ably supported by fellow six-stringer, The Witchfinder General, who brings a rhythmic meaty doom edge to proceedings, while Pater Walkelinus’ organ is … prominent. While Pater Hexenhammer – really, I’m not making this shit up – smashes ten bells out of his kit, Frater Arnhwald belts out rough-edged clean vocals, vaguely reminiscent of Wino, if he’d wanted to be in a power metal band that is! It’s fun and actually all works rather well. “Vatican III” that is, not De Ecclesiæ Universalis as a whole, I’m afraid to say.

After a strong opening, the musical heresy gradually builds. Throughout, the clearest single influence on Ecclesia is Candlemass but De Ecclesiæ Universalis is a fairly pale imitation of the original, with a few other elements mixed in, most of which simply don’t work for me. As we cross from “Vatican III” into “Ecclesia Sathani,” the fun, galloping riffage descends into more of a workmanlike chug, with Arnhwald’s vocals taking on a screeched edge that began to grate on me the longer the record went on. By “Montségur,” we have descended further into purgatory, with deeply intoned vocals sitting alongside the by-now increasingly repetitive fretwork. At times, Ecclesia weirdly, reminded me of Godsmack of all things (“Antichristus”). In case you’re wondering, a CandlemassGodsmack mashup does not work. Elements of the record also borrow heavily from the Cathedral playbook, even down to spoken word passages, like that on “God’s Trial,” which also samples Vincent Price in 1968 film “Witchfinder General.” Just for the avoidance of doubt, I am not suggesting Ecclesia are ripping off Cathedral, or anyone else for that matter, but there are heavy influences.

De Ecclesiæ Universalis is a strange album in that it worships at the altars of Candlemass and Cathedral, while introducing elements of power metal, which give it a semblance of being heavier than either of those bands, while simultaneously feeling somehow lightweight and lacking in punch. It’s not that the members of Ecclesia are bad musicians by any stretch – there are some strong performances dotted across the record, with every member having good moments and there is no doubt that Arnhwald has a real set of pipes on him – but this is a case of the whole contriving to be less than the sum of its parts. Ultimately, this comes down to the songwriting, with each track blending into the next to the point that De Ecclesiæ Universalis’ relatively modest 46 minutes feels significantly longer. Ecclesia are not helped by the mix, which places everything on the level, meaning that, despite a decent DR score, the record feels a bit lifeless.

There is promise in Ecclesia and nothing wrong with leaning heavily into the Inquisition theme as they do. The issue here is not concept but rather execution and even that is not poor per se. Rather it lacks cohesion, juggling some classic doom worship with power metal flourishes, and more than a hint of nu metal chug. Placed alongside each in repetitive sequences, these elements quickly become predictable. One or two tracks taken in isolation (like “Vatican III” and “Deus Vult”) are genuinely enjoyable but De Ecclesiæ Universalis as a package falls flat. In pronouncing judgment on Ecclesia, while some may show clemency, I prescribe a light flaying (rather than outright burning at the stake).

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Aural Music
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: November 13th, 2020

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