Monday, March 25, 2013

On the Path of the Serpent

The Crescent (2013) Risti. Spinefarm Records.

We must burn to ashes
To rise again
With a threefold glory
Prepare yourself

Enochian Crescent emanated into material existence in 1995, when two young musicians, Viktor (guitars and vocals) and Wrath (vocals) had a massive consensus ad idem at Drum II Festival in Vaasa. In the following, almost two decades of its existence, EC made flesh the late Aleister Crowley's maxim exceed! exceed! by creating a series of works that will always shine forth as purest diamonds of blackest side of metal. These works were also parallelled by the quite extraordinary live performances which, every now and then, also had the Grim Reaper as a sixth member of the band. 

When Viktor and Wrath formed EC they made a pact, that if either of them would quit the band then EC could be no more. Around summer 2012 the disagreements between the founding members had grown to the point where cooperation between them was no longer feasible. Thus the EC followed the red thread back into the nightside from where it had emanated in 1995. At least some of us still live by the principle of pacta sunt servanda.

After Viktor and Wrath had decided to go separate ways, the band still had a couple of scheduled gigs to perform. On these gigs EC had a man named Hellwind Tuonenjoki as a lead vocalist. The mentioned Hellwind has a quite respectable history with the bands like Urn, Desolate Shrine and Sacilegious Impalement, to name but a few. He was not, of course, entirely new fellow to EC as he had in the past shared the stage with the band as a backing vocalist and ritual drummer. After the EC performance in Ilosaarirock, Joensuu, the band announced on their Facebook page that Hellwind Tuonenjoki will be the lead vocalist for the EC's musical and magical continuum, The Crescent. The auguries of what was to come were already in the air in SteelFest, when Hellwind performed as a lead vocalist the song Väkisinkastettu, as showman extraordinaire, Wrath, branded the omega symbol to his chest. A most fitting ending for the almost two decades of magick with blood but no tears.

Songs of Hate and Devotion

The 2010 release NEF.VI.LIM opened up with a catchy soulflayer named Lyijysiipi. The mentioned song was most probably a huge factor in EC ending up on Finnish indie chart. To some people this was an indicator that the band was about to enter the same slippery path that Dimmu Borgir heralded in 1997 with the release of Enthrone Darkness Triumphant. This was, of course, a quite unfounded suggestion but still the NEF.VI.LIM showed that EC had potential to reach the larger audiences.

The opening track for the new album, Vesper, is like an educational slap on the face for those who thought that TC were ready to thread the lighter paths of mainstream metal. The basic theme of the song is set by the opening words There is no goodness in me, and what follows is technical, complex and serpentine black metal that lead the thoughts to the 2000 release Omega Telocvovim, while also having a distinct fresh feeling to it.

The fallen brothers
At the other end of musical spectrum we have the title track which, in its heart rending and soul flaying subtlety, is something quite unheard of within the confines of black metal. It is not really news that these fellows know how to close the record in a memorable manner - think about such songs as Black Flame of Satan Burning, Grey Skin and Black Church - but still the title track for new album is something completely different.

In between the fierce opening and the subtle ending there is a huge array of interesting songs, such as the somber Sielunsyöjä, catchy and rocking Lilitu, and my personal favorite, picturesque and elevating, Kahdeksas kuoro. The last mentioned song has a certain difficult to identify vibe to it; one Finnish reviewer heard some old left-wing political song influence in it, whereas in my ears it sounds more like some old pirate song. Interesting... 

When Viktor and Wrath decided to go separate ways, the most pressing question was, could the EC's musical and magical continuum ever find vocalist good enough to replace Wrath, whose unique voice was such a huge part of the overall sound of the band. Interestingly, when listening to the first album with Hellwind performing as a lead vocalist this question does not even come to mind, for so perfectly well he seems to fit into the group. From mournful lamentations to fierce outbursts of anger, he always has enough scale in his voice to bring out the best from the songs. Quite an impressive performance.      
Words of Faith and Perdition 

Most of the lyrics in Risti are written in Finnish - six out of nine, to be exact - but fortunately the band has provided English translations of the lyrics, so that the non-Finnish listeners can get, at least, some kind of impression of what is going on in the songs. The sad part is, though, that something always get lost in translation, and this rule also applies to TC.

There is a distinct Finnish feel and/or Finnish depth to lyrics in Risti which is, at least to some extent, flattened out in English translations, yet the core message of the lyrics comes through also in translations. Thus, the non-Finnish listener is able to sympathize with the poor, struggling soul in Sielunsyöjä, when he laments that:

Deepest of worries has deprived me of sleep
If only rest could fill the endless hours of the night
Just yesterday I was a devout servant of the lord
But something evil was clawing its way to my door

The three songs that were originally written in English (Lilitu, Eosphoros and Choronzon) are subject-wise built on a more universal ground, which makes them more easily accessible for international listeners. Even though I, as a native Finnish language user, have a certain built-in partiality towards the Finnish lyrics, I still find some of the English lyrics very appealing. A fine example could be gleaned from Eosphoros:

Fire, burning all things that you love
And you get no help from above
Pain becomes a friend and all truths turn to lies
Fire, burning all things that you love
Still you get no help from above
Flame becomes a friend and you're the brightest in the sky

In the Finnish language version of this review I criticized the English lyrics for breaking the integrity and flow of the record. When listening to Risti with distinctly Finnish ears this criticism still holds its place, but when I have been preparing this English language version of the review and have tried to approach the record from the perspective of the international listener, I think that, at least to some extent, my earlier criticism loses its edge.

Conclusion - When the Shackles Break and Come Undone

When listening to first album of The Crescent it is quite easy to recognize that it really is the musical and magical continuum of Enochian Crescent. The name of the game is still the well-crafted, executed with precision black metal, that will most likely demand more than one spin to open completely, but which will, in the end, reward the attentive listener in abundance. But at the same time, they have most certainly - continuing in the spirit of Crowley's maxim - managed to get a fresh angle to their music.

I would say that Risti is perfect record for those bold spirits who like to have their black intellectually challenging and profound, and their metal intense and demanding. There is most certainly lots and lots of challenging and demanding material to be found when you press play.   

(1) The quote in the beginning of the text is taken from the song Igne Natura Renovatur Integra (Omega Telocvovim, 2000)
(2) Aleister Crowley quote is from the Liber AL vel Legis (II:71) 

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