Believed to be written by an Antwerp based dramatic society the low country, lower-class prose of sixteenth century medieval novella Mariken van Nieumeghen follows the seven year torment and the eventual miraculous freeing of the titular Mariken; A young girl seduced and ensnared by Moenen, translated to appear as both ‘the Devil’ and/or ‘a demon’. The point of cultural interest for me is that Moenen seduces the young lady with the promise of education, to learn the world’s languages and the seven scholarly disciplines of the era. Adapted countless times across popular culture the story of Mariken typically focuses on repentance and perhaps never enough on the significance of the lure of curiosity. Belgium based occult black metal duo and glorious time capsule Moenen of Xezbeth appear to take their nom de plume from this scholarship dangling demon of lies and untrue fables; Perhaps most importantly their sound takes influence from the early 90’s coven of doom metal influenced black metal progeny ah via Samael, Varathron, and Christ Agony. The aim appears little more complex than an authentic entry into that style and the result, ‘Ancient Spells of Darkness…’, is an impressive realization.
With little extraneous detail or direct attributions the most prominent talking point is Morbid Messiah‘s concurrent blackened Beherit-esque side project Perverted Ceremony which will see greater release in the near future. ‘Ancient Spells of Darkness…’ is no less obscure in it’s influence but the sound is satisfyingly clear; A filthy Necromantia-sized bludgeon of distorted bass groans beneath keyboard work seemingly ripped directly from the early 90’s era of Greek black metal bands like Nergal. As much as I’d like to drone on about bands like Xantotol and Ungod the most clear influences from Greece and Switzerland should be obvious a couple of tracks into the release. If the appeal were purely transformative iteration, and I’ll admit it largely is, I’d not have bothered to cover the band’s debut; There is some deeper atmospheric value to this experience whether or not the album survives on it’s resemblances.
Beyond a ‘cool’ old school black metal sound there exists sacred bones providing structure for doom-informed black metal riffs. These restlessly regal rhythms create wildly successful atmosphere, as peculiar and specifically informed by olden scenes as it is. Admittedly, I cannot be impartial towards this sound; Albums like ‘Walpurgisnacht’ and ‘Worship Him’ are among my own personal favorites. My suggestion is that if you were to reach back to the project’s first demo, ‘Dawn of Morbid Sorcery’ (2017), you’ll likely agree that Moenen of Xezbeth have taken care in differentiating their sound from those influences albeit with no urgency towards ‘progress’ beyond them. Be it contemporary (Medieval Demon) or evolved visionaries (Abhor) this Belgian project find themselves (or, himself) among now ancient peers thanks to an authentic sound and some memorable riff craft. If the intent is to thrive within such a stylistic ecosystem with ‘Ancient Spells of Darkness…’, the experience is a success. If previews of “Into the Black Mist” and the sublimely doomed state of “Pandemonial Curse” aren’t enough to trigger an immediate addictive response, an education in ancient mid-paced black metal is absolutely in order. Highly recommended, thought I celebrate this release with a mind fogged and tainted by nostalgia and without remorse for that affect.
Kin as prophecy and plague alike. 3.75/5.0
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