With such historic high-profile album releases hitting the streets this week (Ministry is saying goodbye; Nine Inch Nails is reborn), I was afraid I might overlook some particularly creepy musical discoveries from lesser-known acts that came my way recently. To remedy that situation, we're going deep and dark today with the latest album from German underground metal unit The Ruins of Beverast – whose sinister output is for definitely for extreme horror music lovers only. Blending elements of blackened melodic doom metal with gothic, dark ambient soundscapes, Beverast discards more familiar metal songwriting structures (even those of Scandinavian-style black metal) in favor of a more abstract and highly ritualized sonic environment. Listening to the band's fourth full-length studio album Blood Vaults: The Blazing Gospel of Heinrich Kramer, unsettling sensations coursed through my nerves, hinting that I might be listening to something a little bit... dangerous.
The Ruins of Beverast is primarily the work of artist Alexander von Meilenwald (former drummer for black metal band Nagelfar), who handles nearly all the instruments and vocals on Blood Vaults. Adding to the cloak of mystery surrounding his work, von Meilenwald declined to perform in front of an audience for the first decade of the band's existence, finally making an exception this April at Holland's Roadburn Festival – creating the same kind of arcane mystique surrounding famed dark ambient artist/producer Brian “Lustmord” Williams, whose first live performance in 25 years took place at the Church of Satan's High Mass on 6/6/06.
Coincidentally, a ceremonial structure is also present in Blood Vaults, which is staged in three parts like a religious liturgy, complete with Latin incantations. The lyrics indicate we're bearing witness to an elaborate and horrific inquisition and exorcism, and that's no accident: the “Heinrich Kramer” of the title is actually one of the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum (“The Witch Hammer”), a book used throughout Europe in the 15th century by members of the Inquisition as a how-to manual for the brutal torture and and execution of innocent people suspected of witchcraft. Kramer's contributions were particuarly vile; even the notoriously cruel officials of the Inquisition considered his tactics too extreme, so that should give you some idea of the horrific places this album is going to explore.
Part One establishes a foreboding atmosphere with the chilling spoken prologue “Apologia,” which takes its text from the Malleus Maleficarum itself, before launching us into an epic slab of blackened doom metal in the colossal nine-minute track “Daemon,” fleshed out with a blend of black and death metal vocals, chanting choirs, soaring church organ and a bass/kick combo that will pulverize your flesh. The tempo backs off slightly for the doom monolith “Malefica,” which establishes a solid melody line with clean guitar picking, then layers up distortion upon the same theme, breaking occasionally for swirls of organ and thick, blanketing chords. The frequency drops dramatically for the ground-shaking blackened tones of “Ornaments On Malice,” a thick, dense mass of stacked chords and squealing feedback broken by a single clean lead guitar line that opens the gates for a down-tempo funeral dirge, complete with Latin incantations, adding up to the doomiest track on the album.
Given von Meilenwald's drumming experience with Nagelfar, he doesn't really give his rhythmic skills much room to shine until Part Two when we reach “Spires, The Wailing City,” which begins only with a picked guitar line and haunting tremolo voice effects, but peaks with a thunderous, up-tempo drum break and a colossal closing riff. A rustic clean guitar lead alternates with a stalking mid-tempo death metal crawl in another epic-length track, “A Failed Exorcism,” which brings in a clean, harmonic vocal chant at the midpoint, before descending into down-tempo doom, revealing a heavy Celtic Frost influence throughout. After the liturgical chanting and overlapping word-salad of “Trial,” more straightforward black metal elements take their place for the final act, compete with clouds of mid-range tremolo riffs, demonic wails and thunderous double-kick blastbeats in “Ordeal,” summoning horrific images of the tormented flesh of the inquisitor's victim – who ironically seems to prove the tormentors correct, as a single female voice recites “Inflamed by my Daemon/No ordeal shall I fear.” The lid is ceremoniously slid onto the casket in the final track “Monument,” which seals us in a cloud of somber chords and deathly chants, as a mournful choir fades into the darkness.
If you're only an occasional visitor to the domain of blackened doom metal, Beverast will likely be too disturbing and chaotic for your taste (to slightly paraphrase Pinhead from Hellraiser, “This isn't for your ears”), but if you're ready for a headlong sonic plunge into a nightmare, one torn from history's blood-soaked pages, it doesn't get much more intense than Blood Vaults. The album makes its North American debut tomorrow from Ván Records (including a wicked blue vinyl edition in a two-disc gatefold), but in the meantime you can get a nice thick slice of doom and terror in the form of the nine-minute epic “Daemon,” presented here in its entirety...