Walpurgis Rites - Hexenwahn
posted on 11/2009 By:
At one point, all too briefly, it looked as though Belphegor was primed and ready to leap quite a few rungs towards the top of the second tier of blast-oriented black/death (more towards the death side of things) metal bands following a couple high octane Napalm Records releases, and a subsequent jump to Nuclear Blast shortly thereafter. Both Lucifer Incestus, and Goatreich-Fleshcult featured some of the most blistering material the band has ever written, and they still have yet to match the ferocity of “The Sin-Hellfucked,” “Demonic Staccato Erection,” or the title track to Goatreich. Yet somehow, their upward trajectory seems to have lessened in momentum since being picked up by NB, and judging by the sounds of Walpurgis Rites-Hexenwahn, it looks like this hard working Austrian act might have struck a bit of a roadblock.
Bondage Goat Zombie veered dangerously close to unintentional humor and self-parody, and although Hexenwahn is the most melodic and least bloodthirsty of Belphegor’s recent output, there is a noticeable reduction of irony while still exhibiting a significant amount of showmanship the band is well known for. The one definable aspect of Belphegor’s sound has been their ability to make melody sound brutal, combining the smooth, graceful lines of their seamlessly sharp tremolo with the murderous simplicity of good old heavy footed gallops, and stomping staccato that takes the route of power over complexity. For the first time that I can recall, there are no "wow" tracks to be heard that immediately grab and dominate your attention with either a ruthless introduction, a sharply-barbed hook, or a deceptively hypnotic melodic build that pays off with a shuffling change of pace into a slower, yet still caustically heavy doom vibe.
Even with many debates going on over whether or not “uninspired” has any place in a review of something many prefer to consider to be marketable art, I can see how some would consider Hexenwahn to be exactly that. The riffs have a less bite to them, the drums have been given a somewhat blunter edge, and Helmuth spits far less venom than he used to. Indeed, after quite a few listens it becomes clear that they're a band in transition, perhaps shaken by the departure of longtime member Sigurd. Whatever the case may be, it all comes down to songwriting in the end, and with so much more melody being explored and exploited within the Belphegor sound, it’s surprising to hear them exhibit such self-restraint.
These guys have always been at their best when throwing off-kilter, apocalyptically huge riffs together with those burning high-speed rhythms, tearing apart your eardrums with a merciless percussive barrage and blazing melody all in one calculated, focused attack. But here they allow way too much time to breathe, to recover, and to withstand the next onslaught. For those who prefer the extremes, it might be enough to bore, but not enough to necessarily hate. The odd thing about all of this is, Hexenwahn is actually a very easy album to listen to if you’re in the mood for something less abrasive, and the foray into more melodic ventures does sound inspired in its own strange way because there’s less that drags because of it. They’re filling in spots that normally might suffer a bit of flat tremolo filler, and weaving in a fairly constant stream of fluttering harmonies (“Veneratio Diaboli- I Am Sin”) that do help quite in bit in adding more atmosphere to the tunes. But after a while I almost wish for highs and lows instead of s steady stream of “okay”, and even the normally excellent leads just give off sparks instead of actual fire.
Despite all my criticisms, Walpurgis Rites-Hexenwahn could have been a much more spectacular failure, since it’s not really too big of a failure at all. In fact, I’m interested in seeing how Belphegor expands upon its slightly more melodic stance, and whether or not the intensity and drive of their earlier albums can be reinterpreted. Just knowing they’ve ventured into a pagan direction of subject matter instead of pure goat loving, Satanic blasphemy shows that there’s at least a small attempt at breaking out of a comfort zone, and this is either the tentative testing of the waters into something a wider audience can endure, or the coiling of an entirely new beast that’s about to shed its skin into a brighter, deadlier design. I’d love to hear them find their fangs again, because it would be nice to know that this nasty creature still has a few bullseye strikes to send our way in the future, and perhaps finally become a band people actually take time out to discuss, instead of merely mention in passing when speaking about others.
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