Thursday, September 27, 2018

Vampyric Blood - Howling by Candlelight (2017)

I'm a pretty big fan of the gloriously cheesy cover art on this album. Graves. Trees. Bats. Candles. Dragons. Ye olde title and logo fonts. And imposed like a ghostly image against the red-tinted photograph, the Lord of Shadow himself, corpse-painted and slung with a hefty pentagram, for all to understand that this gentleman is absolutely the Real Fucking Deal. And he IS, because Howling by Candlelight is a record that sounds exactly as it should when you're looking at it, a relic of 90s raw black metal aesthetics infused with the Romanticism of bloodsucking, wampyric aspirations laid fertile in the hearts and imaginations of Goths and black metal freaks decades over...and by that I mean it features keyboards, prominently but not tastelessly, as an atmospheric backdrop for the bitter riffing.

The synthesizers are hit or miss. Not because they're obnoxious or happy at any point. Not because the the pads and tones chosen aren't wholly appropriate to this recording. A few of the notes just seem to drag and drone a bit, as in the intro "Lighting the Candles in Storming Darkness", which doesn't turn out quite as promising as it starts. But in general, when working alongside the instruments, or the Lord's huge, fulfilling rasp, they blend in rather well to give the listener the impression of haunted Eastern European landscapes through which witches frolic, dark rites are cast and the shadows of ruined castles promise eloquent terrors hidden behind and beneath their walls. Guitars are a mish mash of early Norse black metal influences, heavy on the Darkthrone during slower rhythms but also a lot of De Mysteriis-era Mayhem when the pace picks up, and doing a pretty decent job in both cases although there are only a small handful of actual riffs on the album which I'd call truly evil and effective. In fact, there were some here that were rather dull and melancholic and couldn't contribute fully to the utter damnation that every second of this record should evince.

Bass-lines are pretty mundane, but at least they're audible and offer some nice ballast for the guitars rather than just cloning them 100%. Beats are exactly what they need to be, distant and crashing and effective without getting in the way of the other instruments. I had mentioned the Lord's rasping vocals are massive, and indeed they are, with some great sustain and snarl, fitting perfectly to the riffing and atmosphere. At the same time, they are completely generic for the style, meaning they don't distinguish themselves from a few thousand other bands; there are no real nuances or quirks that mark them as particularly memorable. Simply well done for what they are, and he'll occasionally throw in some murky chants or other bits to offer some degree of ritualistic variation. There are also a number of spots throughout Howling in which one instrument, a riff perhaps is just given a bunch of space to resonate on its own, an effect that isn't often very interesting but enforces the commitment that the Lord has to placing atmosphere right at the forefront of his work along the riffs themselves.

This is another of many obscure BM albums which I don't think has the chops to stand out from the ceaseless crowds, yet it's worthwhile enough that when listening to it I'd never turn it off in sheer frustration. The issue here is simply that the individual songs don't all deliver good riffs, no matter how purely indebted to the genre they sound; nor are the atmospheric components fascinating enough to distract one away from the fact that a lot of the guitars are grist for the mill. Provided that you're a listener who doesn't mind the presence of keys for the theatrical nightmare-scape they can provide, and you're looking for some pure genre fare circa 1993-1994, spacious and diabolical, lyrically focused on black magick, wampyrism, horror and death, without flashy musicianship or any pretense beyond its own swollen darkness, then this one won't probably won't let you down. Personally, while I dug everything the Lord was aiming for, the music itself just wasn't often strong enough that I would keep hearing it in my conscience once the clouds of bats had dissipated.

Horror-meter: Six blood-dripping candles out of ten.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

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