Slithering and oozing out of Poland circa 2004, the strange and sinister Cultes Des Ghoules impressed with their first two albums Häxan (2008) and Henbane (2013). The latter was described as “dramatic horror fuelled black metal from a band who really like long songs.” Well at the time of writing that I didn’t really know the half of it and although suggesting they had not quite achieved exactly what they had been striving for there is no denying that with Coven… they have really outdone themselves. Literally theatrically staged over a double album the witchcraft has been expanded and thy cauldron well and truly stirred as the band unleash an album of 5 tracks spanning a whopping 100 minute playing time. This is ideal for those who like their music to run at feature film length but the casual listener will most certainly be lost here by such an ambitious and fiendish plan.
It is very much presented like a play, in fact the tracks are better described as acts and when the 1st ‘The Prophecy (Prologue) / Devell, the Devell He Is, I Swear God… (Scene I)’ treads the boards you will realise that even the title is worthy of the modus operandi here and not as preposterous as one may 1st assume. Maybe the band are not the first to do such things and I am sure you have names of similar rock operas that are as dramatic at the tips of your tongue. As far as black metal acts are concerned though this is pretty unique although we are told taking inspiration from “Master’s Hammer’s The Jilemnice Occultist (which I really am going to have to track down myself). More serious than the romantic themes of that album we are told, this takes us straight in to a very mysterious place and walks down dark paths in absolutely no real hurry to unveil its mysteries. Rain and thunder eerily light up the sky whilst vocalist ‘Mark Of The Devil’ rasps away with a Shakespearean spoken word oration of dread. Violin takes back to medieval times and finally the dramatic personae unleash their instruments and the devil comes forth to do the danse macabre with his devotees.
Yeah a track by track and complete rundown of everything you are going to take in here is never going to happen. Rest assured this is a giddy ride though full of doom like passages and sudden abrasive gallops that sound like the hounds of hell have been unleashed. Listen beneath the folds and many a genre is represented here not least even jazz like motifs and breaks! The vocals are deranged and old Mark approaches everything in a crazed and unhinged fashion both in English and Polish. With my digital download I have been provided with a PDF of the actual play itself that the band have composed and am sure it will be with the finished copy for those purchasing this. It’s pure Hammer with hysterical history based in surprisingly England and a place called Canewdon Essex where legends of witchcraft in the 1500’s are rife. Naturally this all adds to the music you are hearing but nothing can prepare you for the vocals at full dramatic flow, seriously they are totally award winning. The setback here apart from the huge time and effort involved in simply listening is that this would be near impossible to perform in the context of a mere concert and it would have to be performed around a proper cast. Having said that and not finding any evidence of the band playing live it’s quite unlikely we will ever get to see this played out on the ideal venue of The Globe Theatre.
Hopefully this has left you more than a little curious of what to expect here although it is one of those rare albums that confounds mere words and descriptions, this is one you need to fully experience yourself. Rest assured by the mammoth 28 minute closer ‘Satan, Father, Savior, Hear My Prayer… (Scene V)’ you will either have been completely ready to sign your soul away in a pact of blood or be utterly befuddled; there’s no middle ground here. File it next to Ulver’s ‘Themes from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ and keep fingers crossed that this Cultes will continue down this somewhat unique path rather than knowing they will never top it and give up. As the band have kindly put the complete album online you can discover the madness yourself below.
(8/10 Pete Woods)