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The Dark Binding

Elvester (2014)
Rating: 9/10

An eerie female narration signals the hideous return of Britain’s oldest active black metal band Witchclan. Having formed as Crypt in 1990 out of Newcastle and playing a blackened thrash in the style of Venom and Possessed, the combo eventually changed its name to Witchclan two years later. In 1993 the group recruited vocalist Matt Bass, now the sole survivor and mainman behind sophomore effort The Dark Binding, which follows 2011’s Misanthropist.

This time round Witchclan channels his potent black metal wizardy through Elvester Records, but once again it’s a fine, ten-track display of grim, primitive black metal straight from the underground… or East Sussex to be precise!

Matt Bass is clearly inspired by that formidable wave of Norwegian black metal which swept through the 90s like a destructive plague, and yet there is still something distinctly British about this new release. Maybe it’s the 80s Goth-like strains which introduce us to ‘Worms Of Hypocrisy’ coupled with that almost rainy, obscure embryonic dexterity. This new album also boasts an overwhelming creepiness about its structures and melodies and doesn’t rest on simple laurels, instead offering up some fantastic macabre experimentation too.

Bass takes us on an engrossing journey narrated by his grim vocal yelps which at times meander into deathlier growls. The programmed drums work superbly in tandem with an almost sparse yet precise rhythm section, but instead of creating a predictable dissonance which you may have come to expect from a number of black metal bands, Witchclan serves up a rich mix of faster, nefarious segments. These segments then comfortably make way for slower passages of sickness, which one moment hint at Celtic harmony and the next belch out hideous groans of multi-layered darkness.

The superb ‘Treading On Angels’ sees Bass bark, “I offer my soul to you, Purest Satan; I’ll tread upon the corpses of angels to get to you, Purest Satan” as he offers up a more direct black metal blitzkrieg fusing rattling drums and a sneering guitar sound. ‘Dawn Of The Serpent Kings’ begins in fiery satanic fashion as an almost haunting choir collaborates with a trudging mayhem and then slams into the face like a barbed mace of evil. Although a relatively short track it’s one of the album’s best periods, which in turn leads us into the speeding fury of ‘Beyond The Seventh Gate’; a hasty retreat into the backwoods of misery delivered in pitch-black metal morbidity.

If that’s not enough grimness to satisfy your wretched soul then how about the guttural hostility that exudes from ‘A New Dawn’? A straight up slab of blackened thrash, ‘A New Dawn’ then submits itself to the terrors that lurk within the epic ‘Paths To Immortality’ with its creepy twinkle tip-toe sampling to guide us deftly into the black mire of the racing riff. “In dreams I hear the whispers” pukes Bass as the drum clatters without mercy.

The album reaches its nefarious climax with a wondrous brace of tracks; the foreboding ‘Crossing Of The Spheres’ is a catchy as hell, dark ’n’ stormy affair built upon a foundation of Lovecraftian weirdness and sinister slow-building Gothic melody until it transforms into a billowing speed metal cacophony. It’s like some malformed yet unnameable horror dredged from the same cesspit as Bathory and the likes. Meanwhile, ‘Neverending Funeral’ offers one last frightful blizzard; emerging from the biting tundra like a horde of cloaked vultures smothering prey, a clanking clamour of fizzing guitars and hideous percussion entwines before resorting to a doom-laden melodrama of death metal crawling. “This feeling of morbid dread is overwhelming” snorts Bass, and I know how he feels as the outro ‘Descend Into Madness’ takes us towards the light, only for us then to be snatched back into the infernal pits of blackness where we shall be forever bound by the darkness.

For a grandiose black metal statement but spawned from the truly unholy depths of foggy Britain, The Dark Binding is sure to be the soundtrack to everyone’s nightmares and it’s nice to hear black metal sounding so refreshingly horrid. No wonder it was released on Halloween!

Neil Arnold

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