In their first four formative years Polish black metal project Culte Des Ghoules developed a swollen, croaking black/doom metal hybrid all their own taking from the true mania of early Barathrum, the furious howl of Mayhem and the bass driven occult majesty of Necromantia. In the ten years since ‘Häxan’ (2008) it seemed every release from the Kielce born quartet sought to follow a linear path of ‘more, and better’ as the gorgeous raw ambitions of ‘Henbane’ (2013) were entirely doubled and fully polished into an incredible beast of black metal on the triple LP ‘Coven, or Evil Ways Instead of Love’ (2016). There was nowhere they could possibly go from there without becoming redundant and/or belabored in terms of extremist composition that amounted to 15-30 minute tracks. So, they didn’t build upon their previous work for this fourth full-length and instead sought the deepest caverns of early 90’s black metal insanity and aimed for cruel, boundless fury on ‘Sinister, or Treading the Darker Paths’.
To say that ‘Sinister’ devolves back towards the atmospheric horror of ‘Odd Spirituality’ (2007) EP and immediacy of ‘Häxan’ isn’t entirely far-fetched. The influence of Mortuary Drape is no secret throughout Culte Des Ghoules existence but this is perhaps the first record where it was more than a suggested atmospheric similarity as the thrash/speed metal riffs the band burns through on tracks like “Where the Rainbow Ends” feel entirely relevant to the observation. Paired with the return of Urfaust-esque haunting vocals and a guitar performance on par with the best of Negative Plane and compatriots Doombringer it becomes easier to understand what thickness of atmosphere drives this album but the stretches of raw-fisted Katharsis styled guitar work are where I felt the deepest connection with this unexpected venture from Culte Des Ghoules.
The sound is not a huge stretch from the clanging tones of ‘Spectres over Transylvania’ (2011) EP but ‘Sinister’ absolutely cranks up a certain supernatural reverb in the mix, which again comes from Mgła and Kriegsmachine frontman Mikołaj Żentara. This echoing presence along with a more rabidly paced guitar performance makes for an exciting raw black metal record with what I’d consider fairly bloated song arrangements (that occasionally amount to a gluing of two tracks together) yet each track at least circles back around their main theme once or twice. What I quickly realized when browsing through Culte Des Ghoules‘ discography was that the further under an hour each record was the more effective their relatively complex arrangements were. At 55 minutes I am so pleased with the content of the 10-12 minute set of five tracks that comprise ‘Sinister’ that I can overlook how much it drags on during a full listen.
Adventurous vocal performances, odd song structures and the black/doom at the heart of Culte Des Ghoules‘ sound all contribute to a deeper unsettling, unhinged tone that reminds me of Side A from Nåstrond‘s album and the first Mortuary Drape record minus all of the rock guitar towards the end. But for all of the crazed performances nearly half of the album (“Day of Joy”, “The Serenity of Nothingness”) almost appear as progressive black metal or some form of ancient tribal doom metal as they play out and this finds the transition between sides more surreal but slightly more dull. The final track does quite a lot to wake up the whole of the experience and its rapid fire witching metal riffs, Necromantia-esque snarl and chanted vocals and it fades out into relatively pointless atmospheric jamming until fading out. Despite finding a fair amount of bloated compositions I understand the atmospheric value of these tracks thanks to a fair number of repeat listens.
As long and occasionally bland as ‘Sinister’ is the whole of the experience is excellent material for repeat listen. There are satisfying textural aspects in terms of guitar sounds and a wide range of vocal expression that all lend well to revisiting the piece. This is the draw for any and all Culte Des Ghoules‘ releases, that they write and grow in the mind like a strange parasite with greater familiarity. Once I had felt the atmospheric sensibilities of and absorbed the powerful guitar work within ‘Sinister’ I had worked through a good 9-10 full listens. This speaks to the curious and ‘weird’ sound not being all that challenging to my ears but also brings praises for its twisted arrangements and wandering rhythm guitar interest. The most effective example of this dynamic interest comes with “The Woods of Power” as it cedes the moaning waft of “Children of the Moon” into the most directly savage punch of the album. The album wanders in between blackened doom and raw black metal from that point with various points of combination highlighting the full listen.
Is it simply a ‘back to our roots’ sort of release after they’d gone too far? In some ways it is a shedding of layers but Culte Des Ghoules haven’t lost what made them interesting to begin with in constructing ‘Sinister’. Because I lean in with interest to unique black/doom examples my recommendation is fairly high and I would suppose than folks who jumped on board with ‘Coven’ may struggle with the less ambitious arrangements and shorter pieces. Regardless of where you land upon ‘Sinister’ I believe the strong guitar work and truly compelling vocal performances will be of interest to most any black metal fanatic. There is little sense in offering preview of such a dense album with so few tracks but if you do need to get a representative sample of its sound and style “The Serenity of Nothingness” offers a grand swath of stylistic changes while “Where the Rainbow Ends” and “The Woods of Power” will answer the call for riffs otherwise.
Life becomes a futile desire. 3.75/5.0
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