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Herfst - "The Deathcult Pt. I ~ An Oath In Darkness" (CD/EP)

Herfst - "The Deathcult Pt. I ~ An Oath In Darkness" CD/EP cover image

"The Deathcult Pt. I ~ An Oath In Darkness" track listing:

1. Prologue ~ An Oath In Darkness
2. Tonight It Descends
3. The Thing In The Mirror
4. Eyeless, Soulless
5. Code Noir

Reviewed by on October 25, 2012

"...a slickly produced quartet of ripping tunes, each of which performs a clever balancing act between various influences, including Carcass, Nevermore, and the aforementioned Dimmu Borgir."

Herfst (Dutch meaning “autumn”) belongs to that increasingly popular breed of European bands that’s always one nimble step ahead of the dreaded pigeonhole. First came Dimmu Borgir’s bold forays into epic, symphonic territory with “Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia” and “Death Cult Armageddon,” delighting some and infuriating still more. Then Wintersun did the same, flipping black, thrash, power, and melodic death metal on their hairy heads in a spontaneous rush of inspiration. Others – too many to list – have followed in their wake, including this Belgian quintet formed in 1999 and releasing music since 2003. And why not? After all, metal needs more of these genre-bending acts that can offer a little something for everyone within the bounds of a handsome, well-crafted formula.

The sweeping orchestral prologue “An Oath In Darkness” may seem a little hefty for a mere EP, though “The Deathcult” is a concept release, with the “Part I” designation promising more to come. Also, this introduction lends an undeniably sinister, darkly Romantic atmosphere to our lyrical setting. “The story is set against a fin de siècle [turn of the 19th century] backdrop in Paris, France,” explains lead guitarist Bram Van Cauter. “A group of dissidents – free thinkers, heretics, criminals – are gathered in the dungeon of a state jail, awaiting execution. They spend their last days and hours telling their tales to one another. It’s old fashioned storytelling, like Giovanni Boccaccio’s ‘The Decameron.’” For such rich material, the lengthy overture is certainly justified.

What follows is a slickly produced quartet of ripping tunes, each of which performs a clever balancing act between various influences, including Carcass, Nevermore, and the aforementioned Dimmu Borgir. “Tonight It Descends” dwells primarily in symphonic black metal realms, but flings into a headbanging, breakdown-based solo section that lets Van Cauter abuse his strings like a dedicated wife-beater. Shifting gears slightly, “The Thing In The Mirror” and “Eyeless, Soulless” boast thrashy backbones amidst drummer Ruben Vranken’s recurring blast beats, the latter track featuring a zinger of a keyboard riff and some neck-wrecking grooves. “Code Noir” is the most traditional of the bunch, with a straightforward mid-paced rhythm that gradually expands in scope, accumulating layer after layer of fascinating musical components until you find yourself glancing in surprise at its nine-plus minute running time. That’s the ultimate question, the ultimate test, when crafting an epic: “does it drag?” It certainly does not.

On this release, Herfst owes its meaty-but-pristine sound to none other than mixer Dan Swanö of Unisound Studios. A prolific “musician’s musician” himself, with projects including Nightingale, Bloodbath, and Edge Of Sanity, he knows how to squeeze the fat from what could’ve seemed a bloated, self-indulgent misfire. While vocalist Matthieu Van den Brande’s formidable rasps and growls could’ve benefitted from a little more “oomph,” (putting the “front” in “frontman,” so to speak) Swanö handles the riveting clean baritones of guest singer Laurens Vannijvel superbly, and of course, places a respectable, deserved stamp of credibility on a well-rounded, ambitious release from a promising band. The story of “The Deathcult” may well continue, but the real story will be told within the music itself.

Highs: Dense, layered, atmospheric songwriting, performances, and production - cloaked in an intriguing Lovecraftian lyrical concept.

Lows: While perfectly competent and vicious, the lead vocals don't play as central or charismatic a role in the mix as they perhaps ought to.

Bottom line: A conceptual mini-epic of black, death, and thrash metal with morbid melodies that should entice a variety of fans.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)