By the glow of a waxing moon and ember’d fire his shadow dances through a ritual circle of tree and vines of strengthening potency. Erect and flailing in the night air above dead and drunken corpses, glowing white arms clutch a syrinx — flushes of air upon its reeds strike madness through catatonic wine-soaked flesh into the very electricity of the mind. Death is symbolic in this ritual of attainment, there in the soil all limitations fall away from the concussed ego and amongst the worms a commune with the universe is meant to create a permanent state of mind, an unbroken oneness. The crawling scales and slithering pace of Swedish occult doom metal quintet Head of the Demon bear this knowing state through a slow and steady stream of ominous and obsidian tunes, odes to gods, saints, and phenomenon of their ascribed statuses. As a casually scrolling book of forbidden knowledge, ‘Deadly Black Doom’ reads complex in spirit and brimming with esoteric inspiration.
Every four years their spell extends its own life through deeply affecting rituals that tax not the hand but the mind’s resolve. This third stage of transcendental motion from the Stockholm-based collective is yet an iteration when charged at first glance: Known sounds, known atmospheric climes, known scalar heft and wriggling guitar patternation. Knowing the approach of volume three does not devalue it, instead it intensifies the anxiety of its gait — As a sensation, and a forbidden experience, ‘Deadly Black Doom’ provides a creeping fit of ecstasy as it looses its charms. That is to say that if you, as I, discovered this band not long after the The Ajna Offensive‘s late 2012 release of their self-titled debut (‘Head of the Demon‘, 2012) you’ll recognize that occult doom metal is less “in fashion” today and that only cultic steadfast interest has held you in place, fixated upon Head of the Demon‘s black candlelit glow, as this sort of release is less common and often less earnest here eight years later.
Formed between fellowes formerly involved in heroically underrated death metal band Kaamos as well as the early stages of Saturnalia Temple‘s growth, Head of the Demon initially felt like a one-off experimental side-project bringing the prosaic vibe of Lovecraft, nascent black metal, and the esoteric trance of psychedelic doom metal to fruition. Membership would expand from three to five and their minds would express religious Satanic examination on the somewhat unexpectedly righteous second album (‘Sathanas Trismegistos‘, 2016), which could be considered the realization of their most primordial concept expanded to its performative apex. Where does the third angle fit into the greater hex whirled? This cycle finds the subconscious under attack, the listener will have to decide of Head of the Demon is a welcomed protector and teacher or, a feared assailant chipping away at the sanctity of known mental conceit.
Six songs ranging 7-9 minutes in length and spanning fifty minutes in total make ritual of occult doom metal that is generally unlike anything else yet completely easy to recognize in form. Cast aside the ‘black metal’ associations of today when reading the black/doom metal tag for Head of the Demon, this is an ancient notion aimed at feeling and occult purpose as you’ll not get the (godlike) rasp of Faustcoven or the glaring snarls of early Samael here, instead this is non-traditional psychedelic doom metal played at a ritualistic pace (see: Zaum) and with subtle dark occult atmosphere. The drugged possession of Doom Snake Cult, that slow desert-derived madness and extremity is there in feeling but their sound is similar to Occultation‘s second album while Head of the Demon‘s modus is closest to Dolorian‘s self-titled debut (or ‘Voidwards‘) in terms of simplicity and slower affect. If you are enamored with certain portions of Aluk Todolo‘s ‘Occult Rock’ and Barathrum‘s ‘Eerie’ then I’d suggest all three of Head of the Demon‘s albums belong on the same shelf but that should not prevent pure doom metal and ritualistic doom metal fans from exploring their discography as this band has always tugged hardest at the traditional doom metal fan within me.
If you already have two of these, do you need at third that is slightly different in sound but entirely fresh in its lyrical focus? This is music meant for the fanatic, the puller of unusual threads who seeks heavy metal that inspires wonder rather than reinforces their preconceived ideas. If you are restless in the face of familiar modes and forms, do you need to feel as if all music is ‘progressing’ into the perceived future? This is not a hipster-scrubbed piece of doom metal meant to straddle the idiotic ego, but rather to kill it with bizarre heavy metal entrancement and exploratory storytelling. The doors open for the mind readied with “The Doors to Peor”, a Mesopotamian hypnosis so potent that the skeptic’s ear will melt within the syrupy hum n’ chanting delirium of its curving ‘wrong’ structures. For my own taste it is “En to Pan” that writhes within me like a serpent, a tribalistic psychedelic swagger-forth with the determination of a harried late 70’s bad acid trip. This is something new, something wild that stirs my mind beyond the previous two records just enough to heighten the attention paid to the rhythms of ‘Deadly Black Doom’.
“St. Cyprian” is one of the most interesting lyrical concepts on ‘Deadly Black Doom’ and perhaps the least interesting arrangement at the same time. It is the sort of song that compels some extra listens after doing some reading into who Cyprian was, both as a saint (or, north African Christian bishop) in the 3rd century and as a figure within a ‘pagan’ community prior to his incredibly fast rise to power as episcopate of Carthage. Despite finding this third of Side B somewhat average compared to the songs surrounding it, the extra interest of the subject matter helped it to fit meaningfully within the full listen. Some expectations are sustained and a certain standard of quality is upheld throughout ‘Deadly Black Doom’ though I do not think it outdoes the tensile qualities of its predecessor entirely, the loosened spirit and contemplative ritualistic tone of the album yet makes it a vital third piece in their impressive discography. I appreciate the fine niche that Head of the Demon persist with and give a moderately high recommendation of their latest album, especially aimed at those interested in psychedelic and occult doom metal strands.
Moderately high recommendation 4.0/5.0
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