CRAVEN IDOL – Forked Tongues (2021)REVIEW

Neither pasture nor wild beasts were spared. Rawravening bears made a meal for the jaws of Typhaon’s bear-heads; tawny bodies of chest-bristling lions were swallowed by the gaping jaws of his own lion-heads; his snaky throats devoured the cold shapes of earthfed serpents; birds of the air, flying through untrodden space, there met neighbours to gulp them down their throats – he found the eagle in his home, and that was the food he relished most, because it is called the Bird of Zeus.” Nonnus, Dionysiaca

Winged, snake-footed, an earth-rending cannibalistic horror on a ruthless tear through flesh and soil, the treacherous “taming” of Typhon into volcanic unrest is all-too typical oversight of a ‘God’ defined by his all-too human debauchery, complacency and cleverly veiled tendency towards carelessness. Fattened by a thinly veneered age of fecund bliss and reeking of meddling physical conquest the cataclysm that is inevitably served upon tired Gods and haplessly thriving men will annihilate the cushiest, most self-assured hogs first. As he coils in writhing arise, our outlook dims and, it is about time. — The work of London-based black metal musician Sadistik Wrath has long concerned itself with a cold, knowing presentation of the follies of man be they glowering at the tribulations of faith, the inescapable tendency towards war, or in the case of his black/thrashing metal band Craven Idol the terrifying rationalization among mankind that hands the duty and responsibility of their own hubris and self-destruction to their “gods”. We most often find them pointing a clawed hand at grandiose spiritual escapism away from the otherwise obviate, ever-damning failures of men and their feeble attempts at civilization. Though we’ve long given the ancient gods ill repute as a form of transference this particular troupe dignifies not only great poetic epics of old but amplifies eldest potency of art and literature via every aspect of their craft: Inspired black/thrash metal eternally in view of classic heavy metal and its mastery beyond, inspired works of visual art commissioned to invoke great works, and lyrically speaking they’ve inspired us today by expanding upon ancient tales of clashing Gods and Titans at the edge of not only man’s ruin but within a world-ending cataclysmic fiction of their own. The quartet’s third full-length, ‘Forked Tongues‘, speaks to a growing and perhaps already expressing wrath deserved by all men, delivered via Titan-scaled, adrenaline gnashing heavy metal ah via all manner of blazing, living and breathing classic extreme metal envision.

Formed fifteen years ago, and roughly one year after forming the impressive Scythian, the black/thrash metal style that Immolator of Sadistik Wrath lead with alongside early co-conspirator Scourger (Lethean, ex-Solstice, Cimmerian Shadows) would take some time to fully form starting with a long-lost 2006 demo tape and a second one (‘Recrucify‘, 2009) a few years later, already suggesting deep underground taste by way of slow-charging heavy metal pieces and a somehow even more feral Poison (Germany) cover. It isn’t the most sophisticated place to start and from my point of view that is the best kind of provenance, fans of evil thrash metal with a crooked, cross-kicking ferality abound will appreciate the absolute necro quality of this nearly “ready for public consumption” stage of the bands development. The first official EP from the band (‘Ethereal Altar‘, 2011) gave us a better window into the development of their sound, ultimately their taste boils down to the sinew-void bones of 80’s extreme metal as evidenced by the cracking and fizzling guitar distortion (especially the lead sound) and soon to be distinctive heavy metal hard-charging riffcraft it snakes about. So, at this point we could begin assigning a few comparisons that continue to stick within the blast-rich phases of Deströyer 666, Gospel of the Horns and Desaster but this only indicates the intensity of their “black metal forward” sound and the influences from thrash and traditional heavy metal they’d already woven into mind, you could just as easily find shades of Mystifier and Pentagram (Chile), broad strokes on my part but you get it, bestial and arcane malevolence with heavy emphasis on violent progressions. So, how do we go from there straight to Dark Descent for their debut (‘Towards Eschaton‘, 2013)? Scythian had made serious waves a few years earlier in 2009 but kind of hit a broader audience around 2011 alongside this demo, I personally discovered this band thanks to Scythian‘s split with Kawir that same year. Anyhow, this debut album was sort of the apex of the Mark I½ configuration of Craven Idol and it hit during a time when black/thrash with any sense of self and serious ability was brutally rare (and most were twiddling thumbs, waiting for the next Absu…); ‘Towards Eschaton’ was (for my own taste) an unforgettable debut not because of the specific persona emitted by the group but for their technical acumen, strongly divergent choice of tonality, and a completely seamless but invigorated and “heavy metal” execution. It had riffs and sounded like a wind tunnel powered by Hell, basically and managed to find a place on my best of the year list.

Though I’d been an instant fan of the band and elevated to a furor by their class debut album there was no sticking to ‘The Shackles of Mammon‘ in 2017 on my part, and that’d been a fickle oversight on my part considering all of the main ingredients were there. In fact one of their signature traits, a sort of choral vocal expression that persists on those first two records, was best used throughout the span of ‘The Shackles of Mammon’. In hindsight songs like “Ripping Strike” probably came a few measures too close to the mid-paced (?) parts of ‘Tara’ without necessarily delivering what I’d expected of the band. With time all perspective -should- shift and hindsight is kind enough to that second record. In the present, I’d only approached ‘Forked Tongues’ with the assumption that they’d deliver a black/thrash metal record knowing better than to taint their two year extraction (it was recorded in 2019) with too many ungainly presupposed ideas. What the band do present up front is the suggestion that their machine is running well and that consistency of staff since 2014 has helped the band produce finer work with each iteration of their highest standards. The messaging yet hits the key point of ‘ancient extreme metal’ guiding all sensibilities but none of the naivete of 80’s youth preventing greatness. The result is an album that is more raw, slightly more distant but also warmest at its peak intensity, a firebrand presentation rather than a cold and dark pit of horrors. I so appreciated striking right into the running order without any manner of chaos or crumbling ideas to distract from their guitar-and-vocal first attack, syncopated in what is perhaps the most intense and freely sprawling set of performances from the band. The goal of a “real” or, closer to live performance level recording does a lot of good for a band known for an somewhat compressed attack. The thunderous quality of the guitars is what stands out to me most as “Iron Age of Devastation” launches and this couldn’t be a more refreshingly savage attack, not only a highlight as a song (check out the ‘Abzu’-level guitar work beyond the mid-point) but a strong showing of sound design beyond already high standards, having gotten strong results from handing the full duties (recording, mixing, and mastering) and a more earthen, realistic note to Tom Dring (Vagrant Recordings). The result is unreal, of course, but well-attuned to the goal of ancient extreme metal without sounding like they’ve blown a tire or two.

“Venomous Rites” is the momentum and the modus of ‘Forked Tongues’ at its most succinct and energetically charged, the song to convince me of seemingly dozens of listens and a strong opening statement that speaks to Craven Idol not only pushing beyond expectations but presenting their narrative within an impregnably written black/thrash metal fortress. Shrieking fervor, boiling subterranean pyroclasm, witching metal riffs on an outrageous tirade — We’ve got every ingredient here for a heavy metal album that intends to smoke you out of your damned chair as it unveils and thankfully “The Wrath of Typhon” and (the aforementioned “Iron Age of Devastation” after it) makes good on all of the flash-and-wail the opener presented. Though I am not very familiar with the work of drummer Heretic Blades his martial performance on this piece arrives with an impressive level of finesse and gives the whole piece a balls-out, hall-shaking feeling that I’m not sure I’d gotten from ‘Towards Eschaton’, even. At this point I could relay the list of brilliant bands (many of them my own favorites) that serve as Craven Idol‘s major inspiration and pick through each song finding small references to them but none of any such geeking-out would be as entertaining as the songs themselves, just three songs in and this one has already sold me as a neck breaker and I’d not even dug into their lyrics yet.

“Even the Demons…” are trembling and straying as Typhon rises once again in volcanic cataclysm away from imprisonment. Positing their own successor mythos via the emergence of the great storming monstrosity, we are served a sort of apocalyptic sermon and sequel to the original Greek story, presenting mankind and their Gods as complacent oaf to wipe the world of false gods and rain down the end. At the midpoint of the album we get a central melody that dances in place, presenting the eternal twilight on Earth in full, irreversible doom. It is a memorable riff exactly when needed since the non-stop attack of the first three pieces called for reprieve but not too much. The title track seems almost conscious of potential exhaustion as it kicks the pace back up and presents a hook of its own ~0:58 minutes into the piece, a sort of sped-up first wave black metalpunk sentiment that swings quite hard through several impressive transitions ’til the song drops into silence around three minutes in and chips its way through what I’d consider a late 80’s thrash metal breakdown before the sendoff. Sure, I don’t know how well it translates in terms of description but every piece on here has a meaningfully set progression to it and never once does it feel like ‘Forked Tongues’ is simply pulling a template from a favorite band and flipping their own riffs on it. We’ve reached the point of seeming final devastation and this is arguably where Craven Idol merge into their own beyond previously set paths and they do so simply by presenting us with tow 9+ minute epics to close the album.

Though I was already sold on this third album within the first salvo of tracks, and little could stir me away from such a conviction (er, riff) rich attack, it were these two final thrash-dances that solidified ‘Forked Tongues’ as something exceptional, great, an empyrean step above the crowd and “Deify the Stormgod” was the primary actor to do it. Right, where were the choral vocals before this song? Perhaps because they’ve held their cards until the grand finale it feels like an impossible to run from flood as they arrive, chanting “Hunt them down” (or thereabouts) as a menacing horde that rings in mind atop psychedelic-effects dripping spoken word (at ~4:59) and pools all energy resources for a shriek to shake the cosmos. The point is probably made well enough, whatever chest-beating warrior creed had me frothing over ‘Forked Tongues’ is again arisen at the point of triumph here on “Deify the Stormgod”, it is an unforgettable song on an already brilliant album. What could they possibly do after that to impress and provide an appropriate end to the narrative, a melodic black metal song? Ah, well, yeah more or less as “The Gods Have Left Us For Good” presents a bitter stewing atmospheric/melodic piece to represent the realization of mankind’s dependence on false, opportunistic idolatry. It is a strong juxtaposition to the triumphal, anthemic tone of what precedes it, though they do eventually rip into action in the second half of the piece. All of these details matter but the gist of their accumulation is an unholy listening experience.

At this point is is obvious enough that I loved this album, not only in discovery of its intricacies but the pleasure of listening to it on repeat for hours on end. Much of what I’d been so impressed with back in 2013 is still vital to the appeal of what Craven Idol presents today but I would suggest, perhaps predictably, that this is the best realization of their greater verve to date by virtue of the songwriting itself. Within these ~42 minutes we see the firestorm they’re known for become a planetwide cataclysmic surge and they top this off with epic heralds to new gods and the devastating gloom of their own aftermath. It was just too exciting an album to walk away from as I’d taken an extra week to mull over it simply because I didn’t want to file it away and move along. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (89/100)

Rating: 9 out of 10.
TITLE:Forked Tongues
LABEL(S):Dark Descent Records
RELEASE DATE:July 23rd, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Black/Thrash Metal,
Black Death/Thrash Metal

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