Darkenhӧld Evokes the Epic Side of the Dark Ages with “Arcanes & Sortilèges”

            The Medieval Times and Black Metal go together like blood on steel. While other bands have also explored this territory, Darkenhӧld specializes in channeling the spirit of the Middle Ages through Black Metal to create epic musical journeys. The fifth offering from this French outfit, “Arcanes & Sortilèges,” shows them doing what they do best while continuing to hone their craft. The result is a powerful blend of catchy riffs and soaring solos that enhance the medieval-drenched atmosphere Darkenhӧld is known for, and if you haven’t heard this album you are missing one hell of an ear feast.

            The tremolo-picked riff that kicks off “Oriflamme” easily captures the vibe of the Middle Ages. This style of songwriting comes naturally for Darkenhӧld as if they’re taking actual medieval melodies and translating them over to distorted guitars. The atmosphere is detailed further with the use of flutes and keys before breaking down into a really dark, almost brooding riff that utilizes some clean guitars. When the gloom breaks it isn’t long before encountering the first of many melodic solos, and then acoustic guitars and choral vocals are heard as the song closes. This opening track unapologetically throws us a taste of almost everything and sets the tone for the quest we are about to embark on.

            Each subsequent song has its own variation of the qualities sampled in “Oriflamme” while also including other unique elements. ”L’Ost De La Forteresse” has a moment of what sounds like beating war drums and uses the flute and acoustic guitars to create an interlude of medieval-style folk music. The combination of Black Metal riffage, keyboards, and the drums on “Mystique De La Vouivre” invokes a sense of riding off at the onset of some epic adventure or battle. There are many standout moments throughout the album where the guitars and drums seem to coordinate together with the effect of giving those riffs an extremely catchy groove. “Hèraldique” has a great example of this along with more folky passages and some accordion-sounding effects. While blast beats are plentiful the mid-paced tempos are what take charge and help contribute to the catchiness and groove. There is a distinct rock and roll feel that permeates many of the tracks including the melancholic guitar hook section on “Bestiaire Fantastique.” We seem to reach the peak of the journey on “Le Santuaire Embrasè.” It has another one of those catchy riffs that sounds like the guitars and drums are galloping together, paving the way for a section of guitar leads and a tremolo-picked riff punctuated by the sound of thunderstorms. The whole thing just reeks of an epic finale. “Dans Le Cabinet De l’Archimage” is an instrumental outro that feels more cathartic after the impact left from the preceding track, and it seems to express the courtlier side of medieval life. It’s like returning home victorious after the perilous quest or battle and walking through the castle corridors once again.

            I won’t attempt to translate all the lyrics from French to English, but approximate translations of some song titles such as “The Host of the Fortress” (“L’Ost De La Forteresse”), “Mystic of the Wyvern” (“Mystique De La Vouivre”), “The Alchemist’s Tower” (“La Tour De l’Alchimiste”), and “In the Archmage’s Cabinet” (“Dans Le Cabinet De l’Archimage”) may provide some insight into their themes. The Oriflamme was a banner that was raised during times of danger by the French kings before going to war which easily makes it a suitable subject for the opening song. There is also a short interview with Cervantes where he explains the significance of the Wyvern and the main concept of the album centering on an archmage that uses magic to rebuild his fortress after it had been destroyed. This theme of rebuilding what has been destroyed came up in my last post, and I will go a bit further here by pointing to what the archmage is doing in his newly restored tower on the album’s cover artwork (and by the way, I fucking love that album cover!). Of course we can’t be sure, and ultimately it’s left for us to imagine what he’s actually doing, but I suspect he is using the resources at his disposal to direct will either towards some desired change, a creation, or the uncovering of some hidden mystery of the universe. Putting effort toward objectives like these sounds like time and energy well spent.

            Darkenhӧld has told another epic tale through “Arcanes & Sortilèges” with music that’s as detailed and pleasing as the album’s awesome cover art. The riffing by itself gives life to the Middle Ages, and the keyboards, flutes, acoustic guitars, and other elements greatly enhance this atmosphere without being overly symphonic. This is 90’s inspired Black Metal that is infused with melodic guitar solos and catchy riffs taken to the next level and should be easily accessible to those who are open to extreme metal. This album will get many more enthusiastic spins from me and I encourage everyone to check out “Arcanes & Sortilèges” along with the rest of Darkenhӧld’s fantastic discography.

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