If there is one thing metal critics hate, it’s consistency. Satan forbid a band should find a sound that works for them (not to mention their fans) and stick with it, dooming their albums to forever be referred to in print as “more of the same” “a rehash” “nothing you haven’t heard before” etc, etc. Luckily, I’m not a critic, and I love it when bands I enjoy give me exactly what I want. Such is the case with Austrian black/death heavyweights Belphegor, who’ve returned from an uncharacteristic three year silence with Conjuring the Dead. To say that it’s everything you’d expect from a Belphegor record would probably be the understatement of the decade, but predictability isn’t much of a factor when what you’re predicted to do is kick ass.
Belphegor have been releasing good to great albums since the very beginning, and at this point it’s probably safe to say that they can do this shit in their sleep. But Conjuring the Dead is no toss-off, and the level of craftsmanship guitarist/vocalist/mastermind Helmuth continues to pour into his work remains impressive even after two decades and ten albums. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s one of Belphegor’s best, highlighting their the numerous strengths and maximizing them to devastating effect.
Epic, crushingly heavy black/death metal is the name of the game, and Belphegor sound as brutal and blasphemous as ever here, delivering rifftastic odes to the dark lord such as “Gasmask Terror” “Rex Tremendae Majestatis” and “Lucifer, Take Her!” with a virulent ferocity that bands half their age wish they could conjure. One can’t help but wonder if Helmuth’s recent near-fatal bout with typhoid fever served to further rekindle the hellfire that lies at the core of Belphegor, which in turn lead to an even more brutal musical assault. Indeed, the band sounds more determined than ever to provide the proverbial “soundtrack to the apocalypse” that so many metal bands strive for.
In spite of its overwhelming intensity, Conjuring the Dead isn’t a black/death battering ram 24/7, as there is also plenty of atmosphere. Samples, acoustic guitar passages and choirs are just a few of the additional elements that serve to enhance its sinister sound. Erik Rutan’s production-work strikes an exceptional balance between death metal’s ungodly heaviness and the abrasive sonics of black metal, which in turn perfectly suits the dynamics of Belphegor’s hybrid attack.
Whether or not you dig Conjuring the Dead will largely depend upon how you feel about the aesthetic Helmuth has been cultivating for the past two decades, but one thing is certain: Belphegor have come forth from the abyss to shred for Sathan once again, and as usual it’s one hell of a fun ride. They’re never gonna be the “hip” band to listen to and they’re never gonna put out a critically acclaimed progressive metal opus, but they’re always going to excel at creating skin-flaying blackened death metal, and where I come from that’s something to be applauded. So get to applauding, motherfuckers.