Reviewed: August 2022
Released: 2022, Nuclear Blast
Reviewer: Simon Wiedemann
Belphegor are an Austrian blackened death metal band on Nuclear Blast, who formed in 1991 under the name of ‘Betrayer’. The name they have now was chosen in 1993, it being a demon and one of the seven princes of the underworld. The band have gone through many line-up changes over the decades, the only remaining founding member being guitarist/vocalist Helmuth Lehner. They released their latest album ‘The Devils’ on 24th June, 2022, and it follows a good 11 studio albums, two EPs and one live album.
The album gets off to a fairly strong start with all the power you’d expect from such a band. Sometimes you get just the guitars, sometimes you get everyone playing. A simple idea, maybe even an extreme one when compared to more brainless acts, (let’s face it – some early Mayhem) but it works, and it gets developed later on. The production is thick without being over polished and fake sounding. Ah, my favourite. Ok, the drummer sounds a bit mechanical at times but feasible. Maybe he’s just really tight, many are. From the beginning, the harmonies whilst fairly standard are still fun. As long as the sound changes later on and doesn’t get boring, things should be fine, right? Playing classic black/death metal ideas is often cool in moderation.
The second song is far faster and more exciting, but whilst there are brief moments of solo drums, the textures are mostly super-typical. I hate to bring up the same subject again (it’s just something I feel strongly about) but ‘Glorifizierung des Teufels’ does have some more intelligent mix ups of instrumentations, as do many of the other songs. There are less common moments that have quieter dynamics. To make an analogy, imagine being in a war zone where everyone is shouting and shooting all the time. You’d at least partially get used to it right? Say someone then whispered something nice in your ear, just enough to calm you down again. Then the returning gun fire would take you by surprise even more. Think an extreme metal version of RATM’s debut album, if you will. I don’t know about you, but I love it when the sounds build to a crescendo/fade away.
Oh, if only Belphegor had more catchy riffs instead of being so safe. The axeman doesn’t have to play like Tom Morello, but at least be partially inspired by him. Sure, it often sounds fairly decent when ideas are simple, the main ostinato of Beethoven’s fifth symphony is famously straightforward, BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN YOU HAVE TO DON’T HAVE TO DEVELOP SUCH IDEAS WITH CREATIVITY! ‘Virtus Asinaria’ has a more plodding drum beat and a predictable and repetitive guitar melody that in part sounds like an evil version of the super basic ‘Three Blind Mice’, but if you’re into your depressive music that shouldn’t be a problem for you. In a way I’m reminded of ‘Samarithan’ by Candlmass, in that it could be regarded as filler, but actually it does have something rather intriguing about its perhaps apparent blandness. The Belphegor track doesn’t have a catchy chorus like the doom metal song, but it does have plenty of atmosphere.
To conclude, perhaps the greatest flaw of this album is its lack of variety. Maybe that could have been remedied by having more vocal/instrumental melodies/arpeggios and less predictable chugging/tremolo picked guitars that abuse cliches such as Arabian scales. Even worse, such chugs use too few large leaps and too many step-wise movements. Adding chromatic ideas does up the heaviness levels, but again the stepwise movements aren’t so interesting. So yeah, remember when I said classic ideas are fine in moderation? The band weren’t using such ideas in moderation. (Although the more daring acoustic guitars in ‘Glorifizierung des Teufels’ were nice). There was great potential early on with the intro track’s twisting and hard to predict rhythms, but such ideas are uncommon. The band have the same gothy black metal sound as Gorgoroth, Burzum, Behemoth etc. I hate to say this, but whilst the group do what they do very well, they’re basically doing next to nothing that’s new. Is the album worth getting? My thinking is why buy it if you have say a rather modest BM collection of 20 or more CDs?