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BELPHEGOR Totenritual

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Monday, January 22, 2018 @ 11:21 AM


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BELPHEGOR
Totenritual

Nuclear Blast Records




Despite a steady stream of lineup changes over its 20-plus year career, and a near fatal illness frontman/guitarist/lone original member Helmuth battled in 2011, Austria’s BELPHEGOR continues to be one of the extreme metal underground’s most dependable and productive acts. The band’s 11th full-length Totenritual, which was issued in September, retains BELPHEGOR’s signature sound – self-described, and rightly so, as “diabolical death musick” - and sinister vibe while offering some fresh flourishes to keep moving the band forward.

Totenritual rectifies some of the shortcomings of the band's somewhat disjointed previous album, 2014's Conjuring The Dead, by streamlining the entire process. Conjuring featured an array of guest writers and performers – most noteworthy of which were DEICIDE's Glen Benton and MAYHEM's Attila Csihar – and was recorded over a series of sessions at B>HATE ETERNAL mainman Erik Rutan's Mana Recording Studio in Florida.

With Totenritual, BELPHEGOR kept things leaner, meaner and closer to home. The album was recorded in Germany and Austria – though the mixing and mastering was done in Florida by the team of Jason Suecof and Mark Lewis, with punishing aplomb - and omits the guest performances, female vocal accompaniment, samples, industrial elements, etc., that either weighed Conjuring down or served as distractions. The result is a more fluid, focused and, ultimately, “diabolical” effort.

Totenritual's “death musick” sounds better, hits harder and feels more natural, driven by the blast-beat/double-bass pummel of current drummer Simon “BloodHammer” Schilling and Helmuth's graceful, furious riffing, which has a more pronounced black metal hue here than it has in while. The opening salvo of “Baphoment” and “The Devil's Son” is utterly relentless.

“Swinefever – Regent Of Pigs” introduces dirgy/chuggy tempo changes to alter the dynamic, something that predominates through the rest of the album. Creepy vocal harmonies, mixing Helmuth's deep, throaty growl with bassist Serpenth's screechy highs, and Helmuth's frequent elegant, majestic guitar sweeps - and occasional acoustic splashes – provide ample contrast as well.

The album is a bit thick in the middle, with the back to back mini-epics “Apophis – Black Dragon” and “Totenkult – Exegis Of Deterioration” bogging down in overly complex arrangements before being followed by the curiously simple, albeit short, instrumental “Totenbeschwörer” that might have been better served as an outro. But things pick up with a vengeance with the BEHEMOTH-like chug and churn of “Spell Of Reflection” and “Embracing A Star”. The title track, with its chanted vocals and rivet-gun drumming brings Totenritual to a furious, if ritualistic, close.

After trying a new approach with Conjuring, with mixed results, Totenritual steadies the ship for BELPHEGOR. It may go back to basics, but it is by no means a regression. Indeed, the band sounds re-invigorated here after experimenting a bit, and delivers its “death musick” with the venom, verve and purpose it deserves.

4.0 Out Of 5.0


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