Witches, am I right? Just can’t seem to keep them down. People have been trying for years, all over the world, and they just keep popping back up for more. We’ve tried burning them, putting them on trial, ostracizing them, and they just keep coming back like they don’t care about what lunatic groups of people think about them (if they’re really witches in the first place).
OK, so there really isn’t so much witchcraft fervor going around today per se, but they’ve been replaced by other groups of people who generally are criticized, demonized, and traumatized by people who usually use a thousands-of-years-old text to justify their fears/paranoia/hatred. I think we all know what I’m talking about, and I don’t want today’s piece to turn into a political/sociological critique of people who just can’t get their shit together and realize their views are ancient and hate-based, so we won’t go any further down that road. But it always makes me think back to the way witchcraft–or the belief it existed in and was practiced by people–caused so many to be tortured, murdered, and cast out of society. We’ve come pretty far as humans, but then again, we haven’t.
Weirdly, that brings us to the Ruins of Beverast, the longtime project of Alexander von Meilenwald, the German musician who not only has made impressive, world-altering black metal under this banner but also has played with Nagelfar and Kurmania. Over the course of four full-length albums he has released the past decade, von Meilenwald has managed to make the Ruins of Beverast a destination point for those of us who love the heathen sounds he makes but also want to be provoked to think, dream, and reason. None of his records are easy to handle and take some concentration to fully engage with the music, and that’s never been more true than with the project’s new fourth record “Blood Vaults – The Blazing Gospel of Heinrich Kramer (Cryptae Sanguinum – Evangelium Flagrans Henrici Institoris),” a three-movement, wholly ambitious piece of work that is von Meilenwald’s most haunting, sorrowful, and full-bodied releases to date, and one you might have to spend a lot of time alongside to fully appreciate.
The name Heinrich Kramer takes us back to the topic of witchcraft as he, as an inquisitor for the Catholic church in the 15th century, and one hell of a voice at the pulpit, took up arms against this supposedly evil force. He also became one of the primary figures behind fighting back against sorcery and witchcraft on behalf of the church, eventually working on the “Malleus Maleficarum” (translated means “Hammer of the Witches”), used as a guide for prosecuting witches and fighting back against those who did not believe witchcraft even existed (including the church during periods of time). This led to trials and punishments becoming more brutal, though Kramer eventually would be written off by some as a kook and relegated to the speaking circuit, but his impact could not be denied. Clearly von Meilenwald took interest in the story, crafting this nine-track, 78-minute album after him and turning in a very haunting, very liturgical sounding amalgamation of black metal, grime, and doom that’ll stick with you and keep prodding you long after it’s done playing. In fact, it might shake you to your core like it did to me, making me realize that humanity’s penchant for justifying hatred based on theology never gets out of our bloodstream.
The first third of the record begins with “I. Apologia” that is a strange intro that finds von Meilenwald offering a growly narrative, keys, and chilling chants (an element that returns quite a bit on this record), and that leads into “II. Daemon,” built on slow-moving, muddy, grinding riffs and darkness.The song is moody and gloomy, and alien effects eventually dress the vocals, giving the song an otherworldly, chilling feel. It’s a really effective, churning track, and it’s just the start. “III. Malefica” has more extraterrestrial strangeness with the sound effects, chants that swirl into outer space, and emotional clean vocals that take place of the snarling growls, at least for a little bit of this 10:24 epic. The music does a fine job pushing out the boundaries and exploring every ounce of von Meilenwald’s ambitions, and yeah, when he starts growling viciously again amid bloody organs and muddy madness, you’re reminded of the evil afoot. “IV. Ornament of Malice” caps off the opening triptych, spilling over eight minutes, with more growling narration, filthy riffing, funeral doom bubbling, and odd melody zaps and mournful, clean singing that help the song reach its conclusion.
As demanding as the first part of the record is, its middle section is its weightiest and mightiest. “V. Spires the Wailing City” runs more than 13 minutes, opening with a drape of clean guitars and wondering, eventually being disrupted by noisy stabs, quivery monologues, and sludgy Celtic Frost-style brutality. Organs moan, doom spits back at you, and tribal drumming and angelic choral sections leave you in a deep freeze. “VI. A Failed Exorcism” not only is an interesting, telling song title, it’s also the longest track on this document, running 15:33 and scorching every step of the way.There are grisly growls, more infernal chanting, and some Middle Eastern-style melodies that add a sense of mysticism to the music. Doom returns again–in fact, there’s more of that than black metal essences on the whole album–and the entire run is very involved, terrifying at points, and even when you think von Meilenwald may have bitten off more than he can chew, he jerks your attention and grinds you back into focus.
The final third opens with the strange, choral-heavy, deliberately drummed soundscape that is “VII. Trial,” that leads the way into “VIII. Ordeal,” a compact but blood-freezing piece complete with crashing drums, noises that cause a storm of panic, and a female voice pleading, praying, confessing, something of that nature. These two pieces all set up the finale “IX. Monument,” 12 minutes of pastoral-sounding warbling, gothic fog, gritty doom, and churning metal that’s thick, suffocating, and blistering. But as the song draws to a close, those old spirits rise again, voices come out of the night, and a single soul, insisting, “Drink the blood of Christ, eat his flesh,” sounds more ominous and evil than the spirits he’s apparently born to fight. Funny, but you get that sense about the Ruins of Beverast’s message over this entire record.
This is one challenging, attention-demanding journey that requires you to pay attention and immerse yourself in what’s going on. No Ruins of Beverast is ever easy to get along with at first, and that’s something I’ve come to love from this project because I always have to earn the records in order to totally appreciate them. “Blood Vaults” is Ruins’ most ambitious record to date, one that might not be topped as long as von Meilenwald creates music, though it wouldn’t surprise me if he finds a new target to direct his creativity next and come up with something that’ll stretch your brain even further.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Ruins-Of-Beverast/116265971848680
To buy the album, go here: http://www.van-records.de/content/en/store.html
For more on the label, go here: http://www.van-records.de/