Album Title: The Devils
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Date of Release: 29 July 2022
In spite of the fact that I have spent many a year enjoying the nefarious sounds of the black and death metal genres, not to mention their various subgenres and offshoots, it is with a little embarrassment to declare that Austria’s Belphegor are not a band that I have had much time for over the years. I’m not entirely sure why either. Whether it was because I heard a song on a compilation CD some time in the dim and distant past (remember them?), or some other spurious reason on my part, the fact remains that I’m incredibly unfamiliar with a band that has been around since the mid-90s and have a back catalogue into double figures.
Nevertheless, I am where I am, but I can start to put things right finally, by diving deep into the evil murk of ‘The Devils’. And ‘evil’ is a good descriptor, as one look at the blasphemous artwork and familiar band logo will attest, let alone the music that emerges from the speakers. The fact that I am a month late to this but still want to review it, should tell you a lot about my feelings towards this record. I have listened to it a lot over the past few days, and it has really grown on me, becoming an album that I find myself gravitating towards almost subconsciously.
Ostensibly a duo, the sounds heard on ‘The Devils’, the twelfth studio album, are the work of vocalist/guitarist Helmuth and bassist Serpenth, as it has been since 2006. For this studio recording, the duo seconded David Diepold to handle the drum duties. Given my lack of knowledge towards the previous work of Belphegor, I cannot be certain, but I would hypothesise that ‘The Devils’ sees the band venturing into slightly more melodic, accessible realms. I say this because a lot of the music on this album resonates with me, and I can’t believe I’d have been so apathetic up until now had previous albums sounded similar to this. Or I could be completely wrong.
Either way, what you need to know about ‘The Devils’ is that there is a pleasing amount of accessibility within it, to supplement the heavy and uncompromising blackened death metal aggression that serves as the framework to the music here.
Not that there is much pleasantness to offer on the opening title track though. This is a thoroughly nasty, intense, and bruising affair that leaves you in no doubt as to the intent of this outfit. ‘The wrath of Satan has no mercy. Prepare.’ Thus screeches some kind of demon, before the song begins in earnest, twisting, writhing riffs and guitar lines battling on-off blast beats, lurching rhythms, and savage, demented growled vocals. As well as sounding thoroughly nasty, the song carries an hypnotic quality, pulling the listener into its clutches without realising it at first. The follow-up, ‘Totentanz – Dance Macabre’ is a very different beast, much faster in tempo, with a greater emphasis on black metal, complete with cold, razor-sharp riffs and a more potent symphonic edge.
At this point, there’s no inkling of what’s to follow, but suddenly, with the introduction of ‘’Glorifizierung Des Teufels’, things change. As powerful as the opening duo of songs undoubtedly is, the resultant shift is a welcome one from my point of view. The pace is reined right in, and the introduction sees a simple, guitar melody interspersed with a bulldozing riff, pinched harmonics, and a sense of impending doom. The acoustic guitars are striking, as are the muscular doom-laden riffs that mete out a pulverising slab of death metal, complete with layers of choral vocals that chant ominously. Whilst being melodic, with a cool, lamenting solo, it is still oppressive in the extreme, the atmosphere almost suffocating. Put simply, it’s great!
‘Damnation – Hoellensturz’ abandons any pretence of having a soft core, or so it initially seems, as it takes perverted delight in taking a sledgehammer to the head via some extreme blackened death metal. But, as it unfolds, out come those chilling chanted vocals as well as more acoustic guitars, albeit much less prominently as its predecessor. Towards the end of the song, the curveball is a pronounced Middle Eastern flavour that demonstrates yet more experimentation from the Austrians.
One of my favourites on ‘The Devils’ emerges in the form of ‘Virtus Asinaria – Prayer’, which is much more black metal in tone, with a driving mid-tempo beat and lashings of evil atmosphere created by the bold symphonic leanings alongside perfectly-executed tremolo riffs. I’d suggest that it’s one of the most instantly accessible songs, especially when the anthemic chorus hits, full of dark, opulent grandiosity thanks to the layered choral vocals and strong yet understated melody.
Whilst it isn’t a dealbreaker, my only concern with ‘The Devils’, is that it’s relatively short. Without the bonus track, ‘Blackest Sabbath 1997’, the remaining eight cuts don’t extend much beyond 35 minutes. It does mean though, that the bludgeoning is quite brief, although for many, this might be seen as a blessing in disguise. Personally, given the quality on offer, underlined by the gargantuan ‘Ritus Incendium Diabolus’, which pulls everything together into one last huge, wonderfully evil blast of malevolence, I could have taken a little more punishment willingly. It’s not to be, but let that not put you off, because you’ll be missing out if you don’t lend this nasty album your ears.
The Score of Much Metal: 85%