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17 Apr 2010

Review: A Banishing Ritual (Blood of the Black Owl)

Blood of the Black Owl
A Banishing Ritual
Bindrune Recordings 2010

Blood of the Black Owl have carved a formidable reputation with their characteristic brand of Heathen-inflected “blackened doom metal,” as I am wont to call it. Knowing the impeccable standards to which band leader Chet Scott holds all of his creative projects (Ruhr Hunter, Elemental Chrysalis with Blood of the Black Owl comrade James Woodhead, etc), I was positively bursting at the thought of hearing this new album. And high as they were, my expectations have been completely exceeded.

A Banishing Ritual is a concept album with a driving sense of direction. From the hypnotic noise-haze that opens it all away to the tempestuous and climactic conclusion, the experience of being carried through a deeply powerful magic act is forefront. There are impossibly long builds in intensity, shattering crescendos, and tranced out, drifting passages that lead into unknowable realms. Everything with this release is writ on a grand scale, both the tranquil moments and the barnstorming.

Where this album departs from previous Blood of the Black Owl efforts is in the emphasis on metal guitars. There are almost none on this release at all; the familiar pummelling drum work remains, but it is swells of amazingly heavy drones that do the work previously done by guitars.

Some metal heads may find the departure uncomfortable, but this is their loss – Blood of the Black Owl is if anything more heavy for this evolution. As always the percussion sounds like a titan smashing boulders together, and Chet’s extreme vocals are more blood curdling and primal than ever. There’s no shortage of extremity, in other words, just a more considered exploration of the breadth of the band’s sonic palette.

By largely abandoning guitars Blood of the Black Owl have freed themselves to work with complex and subtle textural layers, building up fragments of instrumentation into batteries of seriously heavy texture. Awesome and crushing are the words that this element of Blood of the Black Owl’s sound invokes.

Yet the release also delves deep into Scott and Woodhead’s ambient and atmospheric leanings, with some remarkably fragile and vulnerable explorations. The contrast between sensitivity and brutality is potent indeed – this release wears its heart on its sleeve without losing an ounce of its raw force.

While it is a little difficult to make direct comparisons, I personally feel that A Banishing Ritual represents an important evolutionary step – the band have sloughed off all resistance to achieve a consummate musical expression. It is a deep privilege to have the opportunity to experience this remarkable recording.

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