Review | BELPHEGOR Exercises a Ritualistic Multitude on The Devils

            Possession has taken hold as the renowned Austrian lords cast a new act of devilish perversity, and its spirit marks a glorious return after the considerable five-year void since Totenritual. This delay was mostly attributed to the past Covid situation, which only gave rise to further experimentation, preparation, and repressed frustrations, and now these are all fully unleashed on a rite pointedly titled The Devils. It witnesses BELPHEGOR, who’ll soon be celebrating thirty years of diabolical existence, forging ahead with a variety of imaginative features while their signature blackened death style remains prominent, and those elements form a ceremonial presence among forces of crushing cold. The dark expanse of The Devils also matches BELPHEGOR’s infernal devotion with disturbed ventures into modern society, and the combined influences craft an offering of unbounded captivation.

            An exercise in demonic wrath is affirmed by a sampled recording on the title track, and it launches into a multi-leveled attack with double kicks driving frenzy alongside the groove of a pulsing riff. Malice pierces through its icy glaring strikes, and blast-beaten tremolo excursions bring strife to the flow until arpeggiated notes carry it ahead. Heavier infusions also weigh in over abrupt and slower rhythmic shifts, and layered vocal patterns synchronize with their pounding beat during chorus sections for a magnified impact. Rapturous soloing elevates these orchestrations, which effectively illustrate BELPHEGOR’s notorious songcraft, and they evolve with a calculated use of harmonics while bells portend further awaiting darkness. Frenzied tremolo and percussive tactics rage onward to define the essence of “Totentanz – Dance Macabre,” where a bleak mass forms across its riffing vastness, and accented currents emerge to augment various blasting paces. This fury is contrasted when entrancement follows on “Glorifizierung des Teufels,” and a brooding dynamic appears through acoustic strings, with heavy noted patterns and harmonics also echoing their melody. A steady procession enhances the dark variations invoked from clean vocal chants, and they conspire with the harsher counterparts for an epic ritualistic highlight sealed in a solo, along with another sample to close this track in torment.

            Experimental tendencies escalate on “Damnation – Hӧllensturz,” and acoustics return here for an effective break in the heavy chord dominance. It progresses with marked tremolo courses that rise as an imposing symphony unfolds, and other atmospheric features conjure a presence reminiscent of Ancient Egypt. Leadwork sends those energies soaring, and it continues with warped string tones running parallel above the density into “Virtus Asinaria – Prayer.” Shadows course through the tremolo melodies and bleak noted intervals of this track, with dynamism also persisting in grand emanations during its clean vocal sections, and militaristic beats carry a lingering desolate aura toward further Egyptian flare on “Kingdom of Cold Flesh.” The focus is redirected to fury as blasts and speed riffing resurge, and a solo matches the assault by shredding across their bombardment. Crushing forces extend the brutality on “Ritus Incendium Diabolus,” and icy tremolos are integrated while a percussive turbulence shifts to highlight a striking passage, where heavy and elated layers proceed concurrently on a downward grooving course. Ritual chants are encountered during the hypnotic flow beyond, and soloing casts another level of enchantment alongside harmonics and other acoustic notes. These combine with ritualistic drums and evocative female chanting for a devotional act on “Creature of Fire,” which may be where the official journey ends, but many will get to experience a bonus in the classic amalgam titled “Blackest Sabbath 1997.” It merges two tracks rerecorded from Blutsabbath, and its old school spirit is readily apparent when the cold tremolos and blast beats launch. Reanimating those pieces only infuses more variety with a simultaneous reaffirmation of the band’s resolve, and somehow it proves to be a fitting end for this contemporary opus.

            The orchestrated qualities are lyrically transcribed along with other topics, and they carry out an initial blasphemous attack when describing a “Clerical downfall” on “The Devils.” Other verses detail the torment as “Devils wreck the holy ghost,” and a “Shattered Christ” is “Restrained in sharp wire” while calls to “Light the torch of knowledge” reflect aims toward higher attainment. An infernal triumph is noted in “Sathan’s kingdom shall prevail,” and the band’s trademark perversity also appears through “Fornication with the devils” before addressing the Covid situation on “Totentanz – Dance Macabre.” Its “New doctrine of the conditioned herd” imitates religion with orders to “Bow down to the exalted crown of Sars,” and the “Deadly sin of greed” from “Corrupted wanton rulers” brings Big Pharma’s role to light. “The faceless crowd” alludes to mask wearing, and a blessing in German translates roughly to “God and the plague be with you” among this “World in rubble and ashes.” The use of German and Latin is featured throughout, with their respective commanding and dead spirits offering greater levels of poetic intrigue, and passages scribed in the former are especially prominent on “Glorifizierung des Teufels.” The devil’s wrath is portrayed in shadows bending to his will, and the “Osculum Infame,” a ritual practice that involves kissing his posterior, is another main theme. Some English sections depict being “Encircled in magickal flames” and “Angels of light overpowered” to illustrate further ceremonial intensity.

            The demon of the band’s name is summoned on “Damnation – Hӧllensturz,” with a “Crown ov skulls” and “Blood-soaked relics” revealed within his realm, and he is perceived as “Visons of wrath” while consuming victims and casting “The spell ov wickedness.” Latin texts on “Virtus Asinaria – Prayer” are derived from a medieval song used to celebrate the Virgin Mary’s flight into Egypt during “The Feast of the Ass,” which even saw clergymen partaking in debauchery amid their oppressive reign, and “Kingdom of Cold Flesh” explores the disturbed case of Anatoly Moskvin, a schizophrenic historian who exhumed, mummified, and basically turned the corpses of twenty nine females into dolls. His justification of the acts is expressed in “You abandoned your girls in the cold coffin… I prayed and brought them home, I warmed them up.” Helmuth’s personal stage mindset is the underlying subject of “Ritus Incendium Diabolus,” and his possession is illustrated in the “Insanity” and “Pleasure in brutality” conjured through “Incantation of the highest force.” German passages elaborate on the intoxicating demonic presence among “A gathering of the blackest art,” and Latin takes over on “Creature of Fire” to offer final praises to these dark influences. A perverse rite ensues on “Blackest Sabbath 1997,” where ventures “Beyond the boundaries of pleasure” unfold in “Turn the cross upside down into her bleeding cunt,” and other acts of “Abusing her lovely head” as “I spill out blackest blood” effectively provoke graphic scenes. The difference in maturity is interesting to observe between older lyrics and those from the new hymns, but all serve a purpose that together form a stimulating and contemplative work.

            The longing for a new BELPHEGOR manifestation has reached an appealing end, with The Devils channeling a classic eminence alongside various novel qualities, and a revitalized darkness is attained through their conjurations. The melodic and brutal elements entwine seamlessly while integrating a ritualized advance, and the leadwork is on point across sections varying from savagery to solemnity. Vocal and percussive methods also contribute to the many remarkable encounters developed throughout, and lyrics match the allure by exploring morbid topics relatable to occult mystery and our modern reality. It’s becoming a somewhat unfortunate fact that bands must return to grueling tour schedules, as the benefits of time and less deadline pressures are readily perceived on several recent efforts, and The Devils provides another highly gratifying instance for devotees of these blackened arts.

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