Putting your cold, dead finger on what makes Denial of God so compelling isn’t easy. But the really difficult bit is finding time to dip in and out of this because you know, each time you put it on, you’re going to drawn in to this hour-long carnival of horror. Is it the King Diamond-meets-black metal storytelling? The starry-eyed, poetic lyrics that at times appear to pour so heavily into humour, it’s hard not to have a chuckle (that might just be me, by the way)? Or the lush yet creepy guitar work that stalks throughout the album – to the point where it’s tempting, at first, to wish it would just leave you alone, except the hammy Hammer Horror feeling that grows then begins to feel all too real if, with any luck, you forget yourself and just enjoy what a mad and neatly nuanced ride this band is on. Listening to some Danish guys singing about digging up the dead and describing the experience, in fair amounts of detail, isn’t going to be for everyone. But I defy anyone who likes their black metal classic and yet quirky and with some mesmerising melodic touches to get through this without feeling the pangs of emotion that must drive the human instinct’s most manic excesses. The Hallow Mass is bitter innocence betrayed; decadent melodrama all drenched in the cloak of evil theatre, the pain and thrill of the undead paying the price for an immortality forced upon them. Sigh wrestled from its more hallucinogenic, jazzy extremes and into a waking bad trip. An early 1990s black metal version of King Diamond battered by driving Darkthrone riffs and perhaps the tiniest smattering of Cradle of Filth gothy velvet.
Yes, as the autumn nights draw in, I give you the perfect album to consume before you quaff your deepest red wine and think what might happen if you really did spend too much time on your own and are suddenly struck by the thought that digging up your former love interest might be an actionable plan. If you’ve never even thought about what it might be like to be raised from the dead and be infatuated by, er, other dead people, maybe lyrics like ‘Slowly I dig away to hold your hand… your chest is a bed of maggots, your face I don’t recognise, your touch is as I remember, cold, as it was in life’ might jog your imagination (I’ll spare you the most excitable lines which take the adventure on to its ultimate conclusion). It’s more addictive than you could ever imagine (spot the ghoulish, swinging waltz that creeps in during the second half and completely carries the track to another level, by the way). Or try to resist the galloping closer, The Transylvanian Dream, which fires up on a folk-fuelled intro and races euphorically through Eastern European forests in search of its petrified prey for a full 11 minutes without ever once flagging from its haemoglobin-inspired romp.
And for something that has been so well chiselled that it feels like every detail, repetition and black metal surge of this album has been carefully designed to bewitch, it’s also left with all the sharp, rough hewn black edges that weeks of production could or should not prune. In your face tremolo that would undoubtedly leave non-converts reaching for their reinforced ear muffs but which are as addictive at the compelling forces that urge The Hallow Mass’s protagonists from their undead slumber and onwards into their grim, night-time hunt to satisfy their unearthly carnal desires. In fact, it’s abundantly clear that Denial of God has turned up many ingredients of their previous album – 2012’s Death and the Beyond – significantly. What was hinted at, and indeed used to great effect, has been magnified here to elevated horrific purpose. The volume turned up on those very aural assets that Denial of God has probably imagined will sort committed explorers of their sweet funeral dirges into from the merely curious. The constant siren sound of a lead guitar that demands your attention and then drills into your brain, urging you to stagger your putrid and decaying body into the darkness for a foul fog-covered frolic. Insistent snares and cowbells that corner your psyche in despair of the inevitable as gloom descends.
It’s as if we have just walked in on something that we should quite rightly be repulsed by. Bleeding from its orifices and breathing the smell of rot onto your pathetic human face. It doesn’t so much as grab you as crawl from its coffin, pirouette absentmindedly around your house, dancing to the necromantic tunes in its head, and climb into bed beside you, lying there… grinning ecstatically and expectantly. Denial of God is confident in its twisting and twisted formula from start to finish. It’s a delight to hear a black metal band revelling in its sound and playing what is, at its heart, a worn template but savouring in the possibilities of these grimly beautiful atmospheres. Extremely addictive from a band that had once released a steady stream of material but, before this, virtually nothing for the best part of this decade. Probably not to everyone’s tastes and those extended tracks might put some people off. But, for others, this is something that might leave you elated and, like me, worried about what leads grown men to create this insane music and, worse still, that others listen to it and recommend – very highly – that others do too.
(9/10 Reverend Darkstanley)