Hell Militia’s Jacob’s Ladder: Yup, That’s a Black Metal Record All Right
In biblical mythology, Jacob’s ladder was, yup, a ladder, that appeared in a dream to, you got it, Jacob. This golden ladder was a path by which angels ascended to heaven and descended to Earth, and at the top of which sat God doing his glorious thing. Being French militant black metallers, of course, Hell Militia have turned this concept on its head; the cover of their album features an actual runged ladder heading into a sickly-blue patch of illuminated sky, at the bottom of which stand a collection of what appear to be Klansmen (though they could be another assemblage of pointy-hooded white-robed people in a field). The image is indicative of the album herein: standard blasphemy, served zealously with a side of unsettling filth that you’ve already had. From start of finish, Jacob’s Ladder is a chilling black metal record with its influences on its sleeve that does nothing more than what it set out to do.
Musically, this Paris-based quartet (no bassist, so kvlt) has got a spooky sense of yearning down well, complete with buzzing upper-register guitar leads and ritualistic chugs all bathed in just enough fuzziness to exude scum but not suffocate the production. The opening title track rages forward with blasphemy on its forked tongue, and follower “Jonah” has a strung-out discordance present to it that’s creepy and bleak. “Death Worship” brings a war drum death march pace that’s considerably headbangable, and the watery samples that break up tracks like “The Black Projector” instill a certain culturally-relevant real-world filthiness to the band’s sound, but the remaining music just never does anything distinctive enough to distinguish the album from so many others like it. There’s a lot of Watain, Deathspell Omega, and Aura Noir here, but none of the individual sound and power that makes those bands special; all of the parts are present, but any distinctive personal flavor is totally missing. By the time nine minute long closer “Jericho”—not a bad track by any stretch of the imagination, just not terribly memorable—comes to a close, the listener is left thinking about black metal, the imagery, the darkness, the atmosphere, but not about Hell Militia or their back catalogue or whether they might be touring soon.
Given how oversaturated it’s become in the last decade, black metal is done best when given a personal sound and a stand-alone sense of self. Jacob’s Ladder has none of that, just a sense of history and a dark, shadowy ambience behind it that makes one happy to be listening to some black metal. There are some great riffs here, even some cool song structures — overall, the album is great to have on in the background while doing something else, or would be a wonderful primer for a member of the uninitiated on black metal as a genre. But for hardened fans looking to have their mind’s blown, there’s enough great music being made out there right now that this might just be a lot of pitch-black filler.