Haunting the Polish Black Metal scene since 2004, Cultes des Ghoules have released numerous demos, EPs and splits over the years; the first full-length album ‘Häxan’ was released into the aether in 2008, and ‘Henbane’ and ‘Coven, or Evil Ways instead of Love’ followed in 2013 and 2016 respectively. Their latest album ‘Sinister, or Treading the Darker Paths’ has been promising to possess our souls since October 31, so let’s give the demons a spin!
Starting with a shrill reverb and low-fi cymbal sounds, Children of the Moon initiates the album as mysteriously as one would expect from both Cultes des Ghoules and the song title; crackling and hair-raising guitars ease into the scene, followed by a consecutive crescendo in which the characteristically haunting vocals starts binding us in spells. The drums are hypnotically slow and, in combination with chords resounding like organs or howling like cold gusts of wind, create a trance-like listening state that makes the seven minutes pass like a breeze.
The hypnotic powers do not cease when tribal drum rhythms set up the scene for the following track The Woods of Power. Interestingly, we are confronted with a complete fade-out before the song gets into full swing, sporting slow staccato riffing and dark which goes uneasily creep deep into the marrow. We ease into a passage where the guitars take on a more traditional black-metal shredding flavour, whilst retaining their signature warm and fuzzy lo-fi sound as well as a very autonomous drum rhythm that magically manages to stand completely by itself but also to support the other instruments. Thrashier energies with lots of cymbal-hitting, incantatory screams and straight-forward shredding follow up, build up tension and make it easy to imagine this tune in a live setting. More meditative and hypnotic riffs follow up that allow the listener to just let go and swim in a wave of dark and simultaneously cauldron-hot and ice-cold sound carrying us to the end of nearly 11 minutes of sound magic.
Surprising us with a fairly light-hearted title, Day of Joy flaunts a strong bass and groovy rhythms in which all instruments impressively interlace their powers at the beginning; as the vocals set in, everything seems to freeze for a moment, only in order to continue with increased darkness and mystery. The bass line inspirits the carried yet energetic rhythm of the drums and the low riffing as a brilliant detail. After three and a half minutes, the soundscape clears up a little, with the guitars briefly being the centrepiece of attention, only to slide into a madness of adjuring screams and guitar riffs, nerve-wrecking bass melodies and impressively varied drum work again. With nearly twelve minutes, one might expect this track to feel long but Cultes des Ghoules manage to build up tension throughout the entire composition, with a slow-down in the last third only making the listener anxious for the mighty summoning of destructive instrumentals again. However, the band knows better and pulls us into a dark vault of meditative rhythms, organ-like guitars, screams alternating and lunatic laughs, leaving us both unsettled and satisfied once the last note has stopped resounding.
We move on from the topic of joy to the one of serenity; The Serenity of Nothingness, however. This track confronts us with more raw and thrashing, albeit still slow and carried, powers again, thus both building up both a logical and invigorating succession throughout the record. Spoken word, urgently repetitive guitars and more minimal drumming prepare us for the ritualistic nine minutes of slowness and might that are yet to follow. We also get surprised by a female speaking voice in the second half of the song, only surfacing from the pool of sound briefly, which makes her invocations seem even more mysterious. After nearly nine minutes we get somewhat surprised with quiet, only a soft bass line with drums dancing around it, creating both foundation and back-drop for the vocals oscillating between spoken word and daemonic screaming. The song ends somewhat abruptly but we seamlessly move on to the last track Where the Rainbow Ends, with 12:55 minutes the longest track of the album. Unmasked fury and instrumental directness are the perfect contrast to end of the foregoing track. However, the transition close to the seven-minute mark may strike the listener as abrupt and awkward; very soon we start to wonder whether the dilettantism was deliberate, though, and give ourselves up into mesmerisation again. The second half of the song is instrumental only, and, in startling contrast to the rest of the album, it does not build up tension but rather slowly releases it. This is done skilfully and successfully, leaving the listener in solitude at the sinister end of the rainbow.