Is there a seat of evil inside the human makeup? A place of unbridled malice, teeming ground for all that goes into the consummation of the most heinous acts we visit on each other? Myriad flaws, isolated in their purest essence, cumulatively magnified to give wings to our personal demons, all cohabiting in the same general sphere, ever eager to participate in a despairing symbiosis; how does an artist tap into this dimension? And if he does, what recesses of his mind does he occupy to give it shape? We are quick to grant labels to art – music in this particular case – but what does it truly mean for music to sound evil? A simulacrum of what popular culture has conditioned us to believe in, a horror movie analogue, an Omen knockoff, or is it something far more innate, resembling the chaos and ensuing ignorance from which we descend? The words ‘Fear Of The Dark‘ belong to more than just a great song but here’s the catch; they can be applied equally credibly to either of the previous two postulates.
Cultes Des Ghoules, on Henbane, are patently strict adherents of all things going bump in the night. Their black metal, albeit of the traditional sort, is executed in a near flawless manner. Moody, almost cinematic, flourishes are liberally applied; vocal theatrics, somber changes in tempo, measured, ritualistic drums, grisly aural effects – used with great subtlety, to the band’s credit – all converge nicely to present a perfectly professional portrait of conventionally acceptable black metal. This sounds good, sounds like the people behind it are good students of the macabre.
Unfortunately, something feels amiss. The very best black metal forces the listener inward, not through egregious, studied tone-setting but by substituting sounds with the potential for destruction and creation on a cosmic and a microcosmic level, without and within. It realizes the futility of existence and in the same breath, paradoxically, empathizes with the promise of nobility and grandeur. The very best black metal, wading through all of its self conscious pretense, eventually manages to strike to the core of all being, distilling it to its primordial basics; fear, loss, anger, hate, despair, hope, beauty, passion, all brought to a steady boil to find release in the ultimate expression of romanticism known to heavy metal.
Cultes Des Ghoules master the aesthetics of black metal close to perfection. The heart that beats beneath Henbane‘s admittedly robust ribcage, however, is one of clockwork precision, missing the sickly, sporadic thrust of human frailty.