REVIEW: BELPHEGOR – “Totenritual”
Since their origin in the early ’90s, Austria’s Belphegor have plagued the world of metal with a bastardized mix of Tampa death metal and Norwegian black metal. With a sound akin to what genre heavyweights Behemoth or Hate would later embrace, Belphegor have been peddling their evil brand of extremity for over a quarter of a century. And now the Austrian brutalisers return to the forefront of the extreme metal scene with their 11th full-length, ‘Totenritual’.
Following on from ‘Conjuring the Dead’, Belphegor’s most successful record to date, Helmuth & co. have a lot to prove with ‘Totenritual’. Due for release on the 15th of September, I can’t think of a record better suited to usher in the winter. Opening with the lead single “Baphomet”, Belphegor lead the listener into the new record with the gentle touch and subtlety of genocide. My favourite track from ‘Totenritual’, and indeed, one of the best songs in Belphegor’s back catalogue, “Baphomet” seems to carry a huge Morbid Angel influence throughout the track. This is refreshing, considering Belphegor have always leaned more to the black side of blackened death metal. “Baphomet” really is the whole package – killer musicianship, demonic vocals, and fantastic lyrics all wrapped up in an evil package.
Starting with a sample from 1971 horror movie “The Devils”, Belphegor dive back into their blackened roots with “The Devil’s Son”. “The Devil’s Son” seems to fly in, bludgeoning its way through 4 minutes of sheer brutality in the blink of an eye, before a short, acoustic section ends the track. Utilising movie samples once again, this time with “The Exorcist III”, Belphegor blast their way through the super-heavy “Swinefever – Regent of Pigs”.
Joining “Baphomet” as a contender for the best track from ‘Totenritual’ is the surprisingly catchy “Apothis – Black Dragon”. With the guitars creating a much stronger sense of atmosphere than much of the album, and an absolutely massive chorus, “Apothis – Black Dragon” perfectly mixes the cold, blackened riffs with punishing death metal sensibilities. The third track to employ a movie sample – though, this time, I’m not sure where from – “Totenkult – Exogensis of Degradation” utilises it best out of three. With demonic, anguished screams leading into the track, Belphegor waste little time in delivering pure, blackened carnage.
Making up the bulk of the second half of the album, “Spell of Reflection” and “Embracing A Star” offer up 11 minutes of sheer brutality, both tracks giving the aforementioned “Baphomet” and “Apothis – Black Dragon” a run for their money. “Spell of Reflection” is the heavier of the two, showcasing a selection of riffs straight out of the Tampa death metal playbook and mixing them with the familiar blackened atmosphere, while “Embracing A Star” continually lulls the listener into a false sense of security with second long breaks in the savagery, before upping the ferocity once again.
All of this isn’t to say ‘Totenritual‘ is perfect, however. “Totenbeschwörer”, the albums shortest track at just over 2 minutes, feels oddly placed in the record. Dropped right in the middle of the album, it would have been better served as a sinister intro to opening track “Baphomet” – or dropped completely, and the evil riffs recycled into a new, full song. Album closer, ‘Totenritual”s title track also felt a little incomplete – at just under three minutes, “Totenritual” could have been given more time to grow and evolve. Blasting its way through some pure black metal, the death metal flourishes that make Belphegor the band they are, are sadly absent.
Proving to be the most ambitious record Belphegor have written in a long time, ‘Totenritual‘ manages to sound both comfortingly familiar and stunningly refreshing. Pushing both the black and death metal influences in their sound further than ever before, Belphegor may just have penned their magnum opus. Despite the misplaced “Totenbeschwörer” and incomplete title track, ‘Totenritual‘ offers some absolutely killer material, with the four “best tracks” all reaching perfection. Fresh, exciting and utterly brutalising, ‘Totenritual’ is possibly the most extreme record you will hear from a major label in 2017 – prepare yourself for aural annihilation.