The band Nagelfar is a legend in the German Black Metal scene, releasing three amazing albums and putting Germany on the map for progressive metal. After the group split former bandmembers have created their own great projects, Verdunkeln and Graupel coming to mind, but among them The Ruins of Beverast stands in its own league. Now with four full-length albums, Alexander von Meilenwald’s solo project has pioneered an unbelievably dark sound, distinguished by its chainsaw-like guitars, incredible drums, terrifying vocals and chants all amidst some of the most powerful atmosphere to be found in Black Metal. Their albums summon incredibly dark landscapes inspired by the literary Gothic, traveling to dark crypts and abandoned monuments and communing with monsters and demons. Their most recent album, Blood Vaults, the Blazing Gospel of Heinrich Kramer, takes us into a darkness disturbingly close to home. Based on the Malleus Maleficarum, a watershed tract on the evils of Witchcraft, Blood Vaults dives into a world of intolerance and bigotry. Written by Heinrich Kramer, infamous for his obsessive prejudice, the Malleus Maleficarum was an influential text that almost single-handedly ignited the bloody pogrom against perceived Witches throughout Europe, with an appalling death toll. This hateful text is given form and substance through this album, with its central themes of the Witchcraft, Sin, Sexuality, the power of the Devil, and the evil inherent in the female.
The album starts with “Apologia.” Its a slow beginning with low growling vocals with choirs and background ambiance sounds. Angelic choirs creep in the background while harsh vocals sermonize on the growing evil in the world, particularly taking root in the female form. This song sets the musical tone of the whole album, focusing more on atmosphere and de-emphasizing progression and riffs. Otherworldly female choirs start off the next song, Daemon, alongside demonic whispers. Here Alexander shows off his talent for creating atmosphere, with masterful guitars, drums, vocals, and choirs. The song’s mood effortlessly expresses madness, the madness of the religious fanatic. The lyrics insist that Witchcraft and witches truly exist, and that is is heresy to believe otherwise. The Devil works behind the scenes, tirelessly working to effect the soul’s downfall. Hypnotic riffs come in towards the end while battering vocals profess the efforts of the Devil to tempt and ruin man.
Distant strings and echoing choirs beautifully start the third song, “Malefica.” Latin for ‘Witch,’ this song fittingly focuses on the extreme misogynistic polemics in the Malleus Maleficarum. The sad and haunting atmosphere in the beginning is accompanied by great background solos about a minute in, soon joined by distorted vocals and drums. We are warned that “the female is bitterer than death,” marked by an uncontrollable sexuality and weakness to sin, a vessel for the serpent of temptation. Church choirs and and slow guitars start at 3:00, soon joined by a harsh sermon alongside tight drums and riffs. Black metal riffs start a bit later, drowning the listener in the sorrowful atmosphere. In a world created by an omnipotent God, we are left to wonder how it can possibly contain evil, and the next song explains this. The fourth song, Ornaments of Malice, drives home the point that evil exists with the permission of God!
This disheartening argument of the Malleus Maleficarum, that God allows the Devil to do his work to test us, is expressed beautifully in this gloomy song. Riffs occupy a greater part of this song than the previous one, hammering home the dark pessimism of the song.
The fifth song, “Spires, the Wailing City” continues the ambient atmosphere, starting off with more strings and warbles. At 1:10 distorted vocals narrate a story of a witch killing a woman’s child. The song’s highlight in undoubtedly the amazing drums that enter at 6:45. These drums elaborate and grow, soon joined by choirs at 7:40, making an incredible atmosphere. Other than that though the song is pretty generic sounding in the context of the album, not having that much else to offer. However, the next song, “A Failed Exorcism,” is one of the album’s jewels. Starting off with with ghostly strings common to this project, this song is a bit more dynamic than the majority of the album, demonstrating great progression and buildup. Spectacular drums take center stage at 3:35, demonstrating Alexander’s phenomenal skills as a drummer. Ghostly vocals join the drums at 4:22, increasing in volume at 4:50 before giving way to brutal riffs and vocals about a minute later. Ambient and chugging sections alternate through the rest of the song. As suggested by the song title, the lyrics narrate the process of an exorcism that ultimately fails, going on at length about the methods of daemons, and how they are cast out.
The last three songs treat different stages in the process of a Witch trial. The seventh song, “Trial,” starts off with Gregorian chants followed by angelic choirs. This short song is composed of mainly choirs and drums interrupted interrupted by a cacophony of indistinct demonic voices that starts at 1:38. After the Witch trial, there must be the punishment, and so we are at the eighth song, “Ordeal.” Relatively short like the previous song at under four minutes, it starts early with riffs and background choirs. This traditional Ruins of Beverast sound is interrupted at regular intervals by the clean female vocals of an accused witch, declaring that with her daemon inside her she is unafraid of any torture the Inquisition can bring to bear, bringing a visceral level of nausea to the song at the fact that most of the people who suffered during the Witch hunts were marginal women. The closing song, “Monument,” is sadly another generic song on the album. While it has good atmosphere, I find it lacking in interesting elements. Sermonizing growls and slow riffs comprise most of this song, preaching the absolute need to root out heresy and sin, and punish all those given over to the Devil.
The Ruins of Beverast has always delved into dark subject matter, but this album has brought a whole new level of cohesion to it. Whereas Foulest Semen of a Sheltered Elite exposes the hypocrisy within ancient Israelite mythology, this album moves to pre-Reformation Germany, tackling the obsessive bigotry of one man that went on to initiate a bloodbath throughout Europe. The Malleus Maleficarum‘s publication was incredibly influential, widening the targets of the Inquisition to include Witches for the first time, and casting a dark cloud of suspicion upon women and other marginal figures in European society. This violent prejudice is given a very beautiful form in this album. By identifying with and emphasizing the evil in the Malleus Maleficarum, Blood Vaults simultaneously exposes the madness of the text and its creator while turning its message on its head. The powerful darkness of this album conveys that the greatest darkness is actually in the mirror, and that by giving ourselves over to fanaticism we become the greatest monsters of all. This commanding message is accomplished powerfully on this album, giving a haunting, atmospheric voice to this horrific problem with the human condition. Less dynamic than previous albums, Blood Vaults emphasizes repetition and atmosphere over progression and definitely requires multiple listens to truly grasp it. Some songs sound just a little unfinished and plodding, but overall the album achieves its mark. The Ruins of Beverast has created something very unique with Blood Vaults, undoubtedly a worthy continuation of this project’s sound.
Release: September 6, 2013
Label: Ván Records
Avantgenre: Malevolent Atmosphere
Official site: None
Review online since: 23.10.2013 / 22:06:56
01 – Apologia
02 – Daemon
03 – Malefica
04 – Ornaments On Malice
05 – Spires, The Wailing City
06 – A Failed Exorcism
07 – Trial
08 – Ordeal
09 – Monument