Conjuring the Dead: What Hath Belphegor Wrought??

  • Sammy O'Hagar

I could probably come up with about a half-dozen think pieces that frame Belphegor’s Conjuring the Dead in the proper context. Why is black metal still so obsessed with Satan? Are corpsepaint theatrics still necessary if your band is good enough? Why does Erik Rutan make the records he produces for other bands sound excellent then make Hate Eternal sound like a drumkit made out of bee hives? (How many more to a half-dozen? Three? Eh, fuck this.) But Conjuring the Dead doesn’t need a context; it’s heavy and fierce as fuck no matter how you approach it. It’s that rarest of gems that can equally satiate black metal and death metal devotees. Belphegor are so effective at crafting a soundtrack to the apocalypse on their latest that you begin to wonder if they’re a machine Erik Rutan just switched on and recorded. It doesn’t need a think piece: Belphegor are heavy in the most primal way possible.

They still play up the corpsepainted ridiculousness inherent to black metal (thoroughly-staged promo pictures, preposterous/blasphemous cover art, countless references to Satan—up to and including inverted crosses in their logo), but it feels like they’ve earned it much more here. Lead single/opening track “Gasmask Terror” lays it all out right off the bat: tech-death opening riff, grim cop/growly cop vocals, an affecting minor key chord progression over the chorus, and insistent blastbeats. What follows never strays too far from this MO: when “In Death” brings out some slammy goodness, it sounds perfect in Conjuring the Dead’s context. Even when the glitziness of symphonic black metal makes its presence known (like on “Legions of Destruction”), it never threatens to overshadow Belphegor’s penchant for obliteration.

Everything is in perfect balance, which is both exhilarating and dangerous. Conjuring the Dead is the ideal snapshot of blackened death metal. It weaves the two genres together seamlessly, then pulls them both apart so each can shine then wonderfully segue back into eachother. The blackened parts display a relentless near-grindcore ferocity. They’re augmented by big death metal grooves. While other bands (including some past Belphegor releases) feel the need to sacrifice one half for the other, Conjuring the Dead is equal parts brutal, grim, and heavy. But before all else, it just sounds fucking evil.

It’s hard to tell how much of Belphegor is straightfaced and how much is taking the piss. (This is, of course, a band that had “Goatreich” in the title of one of their albums.) But like their master class in fusing black and death metal, Conjuring the Dead is equal parts ghastly serious and completely ludicrous (Conjuring’s cover art includes a grouchy vagina, among other things). But by straddling that line between apocalyptic and absurd, they produce something thoroughly metal. There’s gonna be a lot more white-knuckled black and death metal coming out before year’s end (hell, we’ve already had new Origin, Vader, Gridlink, and Hour of Penance records in 2014), but no one’s gonna nail it quite like Belphegor have here.

Belphegor’s Conjuring the Dead is out today on Nuclear Blast. You can listen to the title track here and purchase the album here

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