Released: July, Schwarzdon Productions
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
Modern access to music can be both a blessing and a curse. One the one hand, access to the world's music is limitless, and one's thirst for any and all genres can be satiated with relative ease. Conversely, the vast amount of music out there inevitably means that there is a degree of similitude that purveys the genres one enjoys. Subsequently, it becomes far more difficult to find a piece of music or album that takes the breath away and brings something new to the table. As a result, the search becomes one of reinvigoration rather than reinvention.
The UK's own FORMICARIUS are by no means entering the metal world's collective consciousness with their debut “Black Mass Ritual” by attempting to reinvent black metal. Theirs is something akin to their heroes in EMPEROR: a sprawling, epic sound that combines symphonic keys with furious black metal and a strong, story-driven vocal attack. Despite the obvious influence, it feels somewhat refreshing to hear on a debut album – echoed, somewhat, by “Lake Of The Dead” being included on Sony's “Speed Kills VII”.
The band themselves comprise veterans of PHYREXIA, DE PROFUNDIS and DOMITOREM, and the collective experience is telling on the super-sharp songwriting. Opener “Lake Of The Dead” takes no time at all to grasp the listener by the throat and gently lay waste to their ears, with thrash-influenced pull-off riffs igniting the album with gusto. Where that offers a more straight-to-the-throat approach, sophomore track “Overlord” weaves in piano and amplified keys to grand effect – it's a towering piece that resounds loudly with audible splendour.
“Abhorrent Feast Of Minds” laces in groove to the fold, whilst the twin guitar runs that are coupled alongside the keys almost hark the overwrought solos DREAM THEATER are celebrated for. Thankfully, Lord Saunders and Co. keep things sensible and in-check, much to the benefit of a coherent song. Yet it's closer “Master Of Past & Present” that truly sparkles. An acoustic-led intro with woodwind sounds delightfully folky, before erupting into blackened hellfire that blasts and burns through to an tumultuous conclusion. Featuring wicked twin guitar harmonies and blistering solos atop dissonant arpeggiated chords, there's a small tonal similarity to IHSAHN's “Unhealer” that sounds oh-so fitting to conclude the album.
To reiterate, FORMICARIUS aren't treading new ground. The symphonic elements they pedal are nothing new to the genre, and there are far grander examples out there. But for a debut, it makes for a luxurious listen and heightens the sense of drama painted via the lyrics. They are glorious little stories that conjure lively images in the mind. It's complemented by the able performances of each member, even if the vocals of Lord Saunders can take a couple of songs to get used to (it's somewhat croaky in that ABBATH style, but it soon becomes an essential part of the album).
The traction gained from their inclusion on “Speed Kills VII” has been utilised to great effect. “Black Mass Ritual” is a strong, enjoyable ride through the ages and injects a bit of youthful vigour into black metal. It's not wholly new, and the avoidance of a forty-minute album of tremolo riffs and blast beats – whilst an absolute positive – will likely turn noses up among the purists. But FORMICARIUS offer that aforementioned refreshment to a genre that can often feel staid. “Black Mass Ritual” - it's a new altar to worship at.
Review by: Lee Carter