When I first saw the animated music video for “Blackened Call” I was not aware of Finnish artist J.P. Ahonen or his popular web comic Belzebubs. As such, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of a cartoon black metal band romping about the woods, “Call of the Wintermoon” style. I’m more than a bit ashamed to admit that my first thought was “Oh great, a corpse-painted version of Gorillaz,” yet there was something about the combination of quirky comic book visuals and frostbitten yet catchy and melodic black metal that made me want to see/hear more.
Fortunately, “Blackened Call” wasn’t just a one-off to promote the Belzebubs the comic, because now Belzebubs the band have conjured forth their debut album Pantheon of the Nightside Gods and it’s one of the best big league black metal albums you’re going to hear in 2019.
Make no mistake friends, unlike Dethklok, who’s tunes follow along the same humorous lines as the cartoon series that bears their name, Belzebubs’ music is deadly serious; if a flesh-and-blood black metal band had released this exquisite hour-long opus of masterful meloblack, they’d be hailed as the hotshot rookies of the genre, destined to grace the cover of Decibel magazine and snag a sweet support slot on Amon Amarth or Behemoth’s next global mega-tour.
Of course, there really are flesh-and-blood musicians behind Pantheon of the Nightside Gods; the band allegedly contains at least one member of Insomnium (although I haven’t seen anything official confirming this) as well as guest appearances by Arcturus vocalist ICS Vortex and Cradle of Filth keyboardist/vocalist Lindsay Schoolcraft. Whatever the case, it’s safe to say that there are some high profile metal folks involved and it’s pretty darn awesome that the core Belzebubs lineup were willing to work anonymously in service of crafting this downright stunning musical component to Ahonen’s concept and vision.
The presence of some of extreme metal’s finest (both rumored and confirmed) goes a long way towards explaining why the songwriting on Pantheon of the Nightside Gods is some of the most darkly sublime stuff I’ve heard in a long time, reminding of Old Man’s Child circa In Defiance of Existence (an underrated favorite hear at the THKD bunker), mixed with a bit of the sophisticated melodrama of Dimmu Borgir or Cradle of Filth. The musicianship throughout is topnotch and this is compounded by Dan Swano’s superb mixing and mastering work; the album sounds huge and each instrument is given plenty of breathing room. To these ears, it’s one of the most excellently executed melodic black metal albums of the past five years.
I’ve heaped a lot of praise on Pantheon of the Nightside Gods here, but I really want to stress how good it is; I fear that a lot of metalheads are going to dismiss it out of hand because of the cartoon band aspect, which would be a real shame considering the obvious time and effort that went into creating such a wonderful album. Indeed, those who choose to write off Belzebubs do so at their own peril, because this is some expertly crafted metal that doesn’t need the comics or animation to prop it up. In other words, buy and die.