“The dweller in the shades, at whose approach / E’en the dogs quake, as on she moves through blood / And darkness and the barrows of the slain. / All hail, dread Hecatè: companion me / Unto the end, and work me witcheries / Potent as Circè or Medea wrought, / Or Perimedè of the golden hair!” Theocritus, Idyll II: The Sorceress
Immortal infernal Hellenic black metal trio Medieval Demon approach with the candlelit glint of a freshly sharpened dagger in their eye as the somewhat protracted unveiling of ‘Arcadian Witchcraft‘, their second full-length since reforming late last decade, arrives as a necessary act of pastoral pharmakós to keep the ordo thriving. Though they are old masters of underground Greek black metal, steady yet not entirely prolific since the early second wave sent its first shockwaves in the early 90’s, their output has long balanced influences from worlds beyond Hellas aiding their differentiation via broad-yet-universal black metal spheres. For this ritual an old god sets new presence at their well-worn table and the union finds Medieval Demon more enthusiastic than ever in rendering grand, dramatic results on this, their third record.
That is to suppose and suggest that the two brothers who act as the core of Medieval Demon, Sirokous and Lord Apollyon, have always had both classic first wave black metal songwriting and the teenaged furor of the Norse originals in mind throughout their career; Yet they’ve managed to be quite different without betraying the divergent traditions of fellow Hellenic forces. You will hear empyrean “symphonic” keyboard driven melodicism, lofty epic heavy metal guitar work (and song structure), and the characteristic dramatic flair of Greek black metal coalesce to form their signature enthusiasm for evil on ‘Arcadian Witchcraft’. Think of Rotting Christ and Denial of God (alternately: Mortuary Drape and Mercyful Fate) in equal measure and you will find plenty of reasonable intersections of black/heavy metal thought on which Medieval Demon concur. When I’d reviewed their 2018 album, ‘Medieval Necromancy‘, much of it was spent whipping through a recap of the evolution of the band up to that point so the shorthand version likens that album to the space occupied by bands like Nergal (Greece) and Abhor for their prominent use of keyboards, distinctly Hellenic black metal guitar work with some grand melodic values that never sacrifice the “menace” of black metal.
Past likening and musing can be echoed here a couple of years later, the notable difference in terms of ‘Arcadian Witchcraft’ involves a fair amount of polish (general quality control, rendering) and the addition of original Rotting Christ and Varathron bassist Mutilator who has returned to black metal as a serious firestorm, including the mind-bending wrath of Yoth Iria impressing all earlier this year. This might not seem like it’d be a big change but contrasting ‘Arcadian Witchcraft’ with ‘Medieval Necromancy’, which featured Necrochrist of Darkest Oath and drummer Damien Omen, it does feel like their ideas have exploded to larger-than-life proportions on this second post-reformation release.
We begin at the altar, post-sacrifice and in view of “Meet Her Majesty, The Black Queen” an organ grinding Castlevania-esque speed metal shred n’ haunt introductory piece that soon breaks into snarling, blasting black metal aggression. This is a great way to reintroduce the band’s sound and showcase the dynamic movements and unexpected shifts that occur throughout its length. Around the ~2:00 minute mark they build up a grand set of verses echoing with the foul breath of rotten ancients, a mid-90’s Varathron-esque movement that’d sealed the deal for me as a huge fan of this style of music. Much like Katavasia‘s most recent record there is an over the top yet still serious approach here that taps into the history of Greek black metal with purpose, a gloom ridden spirit that certainly isn’t directly related to Samael or early Emperor yet it sustains that level of dire bombast and mystère. The focus on piano work as we press on through the tracklist lends a palpably gothic aura to the record, not “goth” but a sepia-tonal aged architecture indicative of high societal decay via curses, ghastly pagan rituals, and vengeful witchcraft. “Mystics of Ritual Madness” certainly edges into these Norse guitar theatrics most clearly as it approaches the 2:45 minute range and breaks into a familiar, classic riff that certainly defines the piece for my own taste. I mention this to reinforce this idea that, much like Empire of the Moon, Medieval Demon aren’t entirely focused on resembling the early 90’s Hellenic black metal headspace and if anything they’ve done a fine job of incorporating various other influences into about half of the albums riffs. They do eventually step black into the auld graves when it counts yet the vistae available for their craft to ensorcell from is not blindered.
Delays for certain formats, an early digital release and various other circumstances have spread my listening habits for this record across several months, hence all thoughts landing close to the vinyl release date. This extended period of time has probably inflated the score for good reason as the full listen holds up quite well and the scope of the album becomes more impressive once it all has some time to sink in. ‘Arcadian Witchcraft’ is inarguably a strong album for the sake of its swiss-army knife approach to songwriting, each blade is different and produces a different tear when ripping flesh. I say this to emphasize what I’d posit as “dynamism” inherent to Greek black metal songwriting as a key feature, something I’d briefly mentioned in review of Zaratus earlier this year. That is to say that Medieval Demon “adapt” to the mood of each piece, getting heavier when slowing down, more detailed when speeding up, and generally resembling a sprawling heavy metal orchestra as often as they do a stylized, regional ‘old school’ black metal act. “The Grand Archon” was the tipping point, a spire that’d form in mind after several listens where invigorated early Rotting Christ-esque riffs and blunt snare hammer club away the zombified choir that punctuates each verse. The combination of a deep-chugging riff atop a gratifying psychotic keyboard spiral, and melody thereafter, is a truly sublime moment of evil. It lands upon me as a masterful study of this ancient craft that is yet not self-conscious or overthought, the bones of their discourse are entirely natural in formation. This is the major difference between acts that stem from the 90’s level of extreme metal craft and todays incomplete imitations, it isn’t confidence but a matured understanding of classic heavy metal theatrics still applying to extreme metal, which cannot come from “extreme metal influenced extreme metal”.
This leads us to the core thesis of our musings today, that this is the finest work to date from Medieval Demon. Both Mutilator, whom apparently helped engineer the ‘Night of the Infernal Lords‘ (1994) demo, and Lord Apollyon have pulled inspiration and direct composition from ‘leftover’ or untreated works writ during the most classic period of Greek black metal. This pile of ancient manuscript translated for today then submits as proof of why the experience feels authentic rather than imitative. This fact helps us along in a valuable way yet the precision of ‘Arcadian Witchcraft’ as an experience is what generates supreme value. Just under 40 minutes, appropriately obscure artwork, and a prime representation of their Hellenic black “but different” ethos dating back to the early 90’s make it an exemplar window into their world. Is it a modern masterpiece then? I’d rather see ‘Arcadian Witchcraft’ as Medieval Demon‘s highest art to date, a memorable and clearly very inspired work that respectfully crowns their always authentic, spirited legacy. A high recommendation.
|LABEL(S):||Hell’s Headbangers Records|
|RELEASE DATE:||March 26th, 2021 [Vinyl]|
February 12th, 2021 [CD]
September 29th, 2020 [Digital]
|BUY & LISTEN:||Bandcamp [All Formats]|
Melodic Black Metal
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