Belphegor – “Totenritual” (Nuclear Blast)
Close to their 25th anniversary, this Austrian extreme metal band have always been reflective of their extreme metal tag, be it through being named after one of the 7 princes of hell or band founder Helmuth fighting for his life after contracting typhoid fever – not to mention brushes with Russian religious fanatics! If Belphegor’s offstage antics (including their scary reputation for drinking and substance use) were already eye brow raising, then the band’s music – not to mention their live show complete with blood, bones and gas masks (don’t ask!) – is nothing short of an experience, be it an out of body one as they have long sought to achieve a spirituality both for themselves and their audience through escalating levels of intensity. On “Totenritual” they have captured the essence of that ritual on this stunning 11th release. Following their most successful release in 2014’s “Conjuring The Dead”, few people wondered if Belphegor would be able to surpass the standards achieved there. Well, “Totenritual” not only reeks of death being based on Helmuth’s experience, but is death! Recruiting one of the most fearsome drummers around in Simon ‘BloodHammer’ Schilling whose superior technical prowess is only matched by his frightening speed, the 9 tracks here are death metal come of age with blasting black metal melded into possessing soundscapes that are to be awed. Matching on the guitars is Helmuth’s own impressive guitar work, be it obvious in the use of heavy low tuned guitars – utilizing 4 rhythms no less – along with more subtle breaks and fills to complement the bountifully dark riffage on offer as well as melodic clanging bliss. Definitely plenty of thought here including the perfect use of tempo changes to really allow the music to soak into your skin in order to feel that aforementioned ‘experience’. Equally in synch vocally from screams to growls and drawls to match the material, I haveta say there’s little that can be faulted on this elite level release, with tracks like ‘Swinefever – Regent of Pigs’, ‘Spell of Reflection’ and ‘Embracing A Star’ only standing out a hair’s breath to the rest of the superb material on offer here. “Totenritual” definitely puts Belphegor at the top of the big league with the likes of Behemoth and Hate and is quite possibly the best extreme album you will hear this year.