Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Order of the Ebon Hand - The Mystic Path to the Netherworld (1997)

Order of the Ebon Hand might just be the first metal band of note to have drawn its moniker from a Magic: the Gathering playing card, but the novelty of that fact is not without its cost. That cost is the one of the ugliest fucking album covers I have ever witnessed in my 30 whatever years with all of the medium and its subgenres. Who designed this awful, stringy abstraction of medusa? I realize the band's name is lengthy, but why the terrible choice in horizontal and vertical scrawl? Perhaps these Greeks wanted to insure that we'd use our aural sense to its fullest by blinding us and voiding us of any distraction, but The Mystic Path to the Netherworld is such a visual travesty that it nearly withered off my nose and various other appendages too...

But surely the music would redeem it, right? Not quite. The Mystic Path to the Netherworld is pretty indistinct from most of the second or third tier European black metal in the 90s, joining such names as Hecate Enthroned or Ancient (beyond their first album) in the footfalls of far mightier acts. Straight, driving black with an excess of blast beats that never at any time feel compelling or extreme, with ghoulish, resonant vocals and the occasional use of keyboards to provide an orchestrated dimension above and beyond the core mediocrity. The band also uses acoustic segues (as in "Under a Pale Moonlight"), but they're rarely catchy and often the product of sloppy transitions, nor do the cleaner, Gothic spoken vocals ever help. Once in awhile you'll get a passable, aggressive tune like "Fallen Hierarchy" or "Behold the Sign of a New Era", but neither even hints at the memorable craftsmanship of their many superior peers. I won't even dwell on the terribly bloated "Tears in Red", nearly 11 minutes of tedium with a few sparse, atmospheric moments of real weight.

Unfortunately, everything about Order of the Ebon Hand (at this point) reeks of 'me too' metal, and 1997 was the year that the black levee was beginning to sag under the flood of no talents and doppelgangers. Not that this is total shit for a debut, but there is simply nothing about it to recommend it above anything else, and it lacks even the more distinct Greek characteristics of its countrymen. The production is average, the vocals average, the riffs largely forgettable, and the variation betrayed by the band’s general inability to transition effectively through tempos and contrasts. The Mystic Path to the Netherworld was tapped out of mana before it entered the match.

Verdict: Indifference [5/10]

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