Coven, or Evil Ways Instead of Love by Cultes Des GhoulesRelease date: February 17, 2017
Label: Hells Headbangers Records
Though little is known about the band Cultes Des Ghoules, they make one hell of a racket on every release. Though they’ve not stood out for me personally in the past, their third album Coven, or Coven, or Evil Ways Instead of Love may be their shot at fame. The Polish band truly delivers a magnum opus and I’m not just saying that because it was in the press release.
Coven spans over 3 vinyl discs in length, with over 100 minutes of material. A daring release if any, but also challenging to create. Not every extreme metal band has the capacity to keep things interesting past the 45 minute mark (some struggle with the 20 minute mark even). Though length is no guarantee for greatness, delivering a true epic is rare. Cultes Des Ghoules, named after a mysterious tome conjured up by H.P. Lovecraft, might have succeeded here at making something grand.
Where black metal usually is not very interested in drawing in their listeners, this must have required something different from the band. It has to draw listeners in with a different approach. The artwork of the album is already quite different and more subtle in its artistic expression. The intro ‘The Prophecy (Prologue)/ Devell, the Devell He Is, I Swear God… (Scene I)’ is the sound of rain and a ghoulish voice reciting words in a poetic fashion. And thus the album starts in the fashion of a theatrical play. The voice is in fact Mikołaj Żentara from Mglá, lending his ghoulish words to the record. After the prologue follows an intro of strings, creating Cultes Des Ghoules’ own ‘Dance Macabre’ with their haunting tones, before we launch into the actual thunderous black ’n’ roll.
Blending the blackened turbulence of Satyricon, with the rolling sound of Entombed we continue our decent. Vocalist Mark of the Devil snarls and rants all the way through, with a tone akin to spitting venom at the listener. The 21 minute lasting epic gradually slows down to a more doomed, trudging pace, where the singer takes the guise of panicking peasant. Bleak howls suggest how the fearful and ignorant folk. The fierce delivery is symbolic for the turmoil that causes a witch hunt it would seem, where fear guides action in the story. Something that reverberates even in our daily experiences. Though the record consists of five massive pieces, they are not boring processions in the same style, but constantly seem to morph and evolve into a next phase. There’s a certain bombastic quality to the songs, an openness that makes this record rather listenable for those who are not that well versed in the extremer metal sounds. The build-up the band uses makes it easier to reach those pinnacles of the tracks as well.
An example of that is the third part, titled ‘Strange Day, See the Clash of Heart and Reason… (Scene III)’. A classic intro sets the tone of a mysterious encounter in the dangerous quarters of a city with a careful and foreboding string section again. After a swirling series of guitar riffs, we come to a monologue of one of the characters, who encounters a gypsy who lures her along. This is told with an ever changing music, seductive and sly words, but also music that feels like a slide you can’t get of. The songs are like a play, though the characters speak with the same tongue. As a listener you glide along with the story, you read the lyrics with descriptive parts and become one with the story. Undertaking this epic journey and finally, speaking in accord with the character:
“Passions of other men I truly scorn
To the tongues of the dark I am reborn
I pledge to serve thee for the good and ill
Possess me and then kill – that is my will”
Those are the final lyrics in the ritualistic finale of ‘Satan, Father, Savior, Hear My Prayer… (Scene V)’. Bombastic arrangements, doomy progressions and monolithic riffs combined to create the true finale the play needs in the shape of a complete descent into the maddening dark. It’s the essence of Coven, the descent into madness in five chapters of turbulent, heavy black metal.
Though the record contains a wide variation of characters and musically travels far and wide, there’s a complexity to listening to the album. It requires effort on behalf of the listener, because this is not a rock opera. There’s no clear suggestion of what’s going on without the lyric sheet. The voices all come from the same mouth and the shrieking madness that the band delivers gives little to no room for ambient sounds. So without any of these peripheral cues, following the stories of the five acts is challenging. As an album however, this is brilliant material in itself and shows the full range of skills that Cultes Des Ghoules has to offer.