Greek unknowns Behelal deserve some credit for what they've actually manifested through Metamorphosis. In general, bands that open their albums with exotic folksy, ambient or theatrical intro pieces tend to immediately disappoint once they lapse into the inevitable burst of derivative black metal aggression. While I can't cite that the harsher content of this debut album is necessarily novel or all that interesting, they definitely manage to balance the rush of evil, writhing tremolo riffs with a symphonic swagger and fragile, busy bass work that keeps the ears glued despite the fact that the guitars are very rarely compelling in of themselves. Metamorphosis is thus a dark and mystical experience which seems instinctively driven to sabotage its own potential segues into monotony.
The dechristening "Introibo ad altare" is, as I hinted, quite spectacular. A piece which orchestra and ethnic vocal chanting which wouldn't have been out of place on one of the mid period CDs of countrymen Septic Flesh. But the worldliness ends with "The Storming of the Horns", which quickly curves from a jazzy, dissonant bass-driven opening to your standard blast of melodic black metal somewhere between Dissection and Cradle of Filth. The vocals are a thick, bruising rasp which is often layered in two twisted incantations, one more of a gremlin pitch than the anchoring, central presence. The guitars offer variations of sinister streaming and chordal collisions, but they're hardly memorable, and once the soaring, synthesized horn orchestration arrives at the finale, you realize just how underwhelming much of the metal really was. Ditto for something like "The Mirror", which has a more textured glaze of dissonance and daggers in its faster verse riffing, but then becomes more brazen and noteworthy during the gleam of the lead in the slower-paced bridge sequence.
But there is nonetheless quite a lot to the 50 minutes of Metamorphosis which is difficult to scoff at. I found the bass guitar interesting throughout, even when it follows the guitar more closely. This was no lazy effort, but a legitimate coup to better define and enrich the experience with a dimension all too rare in the black metal genre. In general, the world music and symphonic swells throughout the album are well decorated, and thus "Ego Sum Radix et Genus Lucifer" and the more brooding "Eleventh Key of Necromantical Incantation" make for appreciable dramatic pauses among the tides of mediocrity. Where such experiments are placed inside the tracks, like the sweltering effected guitars bisecting "July in Behelal" or the shifting, disjointed woes of "For the Glory of Ordo Serpenti", they almost invariably heighten the value of their assigned tracks.
Ultimately, the content is varied and venomous enough to call Behelal's debut a success, if not a rousing, consistent one. Not the sort of album one would often break out of its packaging, but a strong enough imprint into the saturated realm of Satanic, ritual and occult black metal which does not at least sound precisely like any one other. The musicianship is competent throughout, and the riffs spurious and adventurous, even if the standout riffs are treacherously few. Clearly there is enough talent here to expand upon if the metallic currents can be better leveled and consolidated against the remarkable swells of symphonic atmosphere.
Verdict: Win [7/10]