“And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth … to gather them together for battle; the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.” – Revelation 20:7-8 (KJV)
The Revelation of John paints the apocalypse in a red glow of violence and death; a sort of hallucinatory nightmare. The tale of a brilliant and rebellious outcast, banished from light due to his insubordination. Of a being shrouded in glory and pride, who rises out of the seething pain of defeat to lay claim to the most loved creation of his nemesis. In Christian scripture, Satan is referred to as the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2) and the ruler of the world (John 12:31), and Revelation is his last stand in Christian textual tradition. If there were ever a soundtrack to this epic final march of mythical power and might, Bestia Arcana have delivered it to us. Holókauston is the sound of Leviathan stirring awake. Of a demonic horde writhing in orgasmic adoration of its fallen king. It’s the soundtrack to the grand finale of the apocalypse, an inflammatory portrait of the end of days, and it is absolutely glorious.
For those unfamiliar, Bestia Arcana is a black metal “side project” of Nightbringer and Akhlys architect and Excommunion contributor Naas Alcameth, and consists of three musicians (Alcameth, K., and Menthor) who have each been attached to one or more of these various projects. I put the nature of this band in quotes because it is hard to label any Alcameth creation a side gig. As most fans of black and death metal are probably aware, the albums released by these respective bands make up a pretty stellar resume of high quality metal. Holókauston follows hotly on the heels of Nightbringer’s latest well-received record Terra Damnata (read our review here!), which struck me as more than a little odd. Why release two epic black metal projects so close to one another? Part of this may be due to Bestia Arcana’s issues with their previous label, Daemon Worship, which released their excellent debut record To Anabainon ek tes Abyssu. Picked up by Dark Descent Records, the album saw a close to immediate release onto Bandcamp, and has been streaming since. Clear as mud? Good. Now that the logistical details are out of the way, let’s dive into the music. Good lord, the music…
This album sounds like an army marching directly from the gaping maw of hell and setting fire to all of human civilization. Its four tracks range from eight to eleven minutes in duration, and suck the listener into a roiling bonfire of black metal extremity from the first note to the last haunted howl. Opening track “Hellmouth” begins with the lone chime of a bell, immediately followed by a tremolo-picked guitar salvo so sharp that it could probably sever limbs. After some brief sonic scene-setting, Menthor’s drums begin blasting with absolute ferocity and an uncanny level of precision. This precision is present in every instrumental performance on the record, which are on the whole flawless. Each instrument is given a fair amount of space to work with in the mix, allowing the technical dexterity of these musicians to shine in sometimes unexpected but always pleasing ways. As an opening statement, “Hellmouth” is as perfect a demonic apparition as one will find on a black metal record
The production direction of Holókauston is tailor made for those that love their black metal drenched in atmospheric tension. This tension ebbs and flows throughout these tracks, with certain moments giving the listener just a bit of breathing room before snatching it away with another torrent of aggression and torment. While the gnarly, lo-fi nastiness of traditional black metal is almost entirely absent (which some of the trve could view as a net-negative regarding the band’s overall sound), the way this album was mixed and produced fits the bombast of the music so well that such quarrels hold less weight in the grand scheme of the album. The instruments are clearly heard, the atmosphere is relentless, and the vocal work is distinct and wholly spine-chilling.
In general, Bestia Arcana bring a more oratorical approach to the vocals in their compositions than most black metal bands. While the screams and howls of traditional black metal are present, these songs feel much more like deranged, maniacal sermons belched by priests of darkness to the frothing masses. Alongside this unusual approach, the band implements some eerie vocal effects. These display themselves prominently in the track “Obscurator”, which jumbles and gargles the vocals in the sound akin to the vocalists being drowned in a sea of black static. It’s an engaging choice and sounds incredible.
Thematically, the album could technically be split into halves which blend seamlessly with one another. The first half being the more fast-paced and manic side of the band’s sound, with the latter half slowing down somewhat, and instead bringing the band’s heavy use of atmospherics to the forefront. Album highlight “Howling” features a much more methodical pace in its opening minutes, eventually letting this deliberate riffing transition into a wave of dark ambient noise that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Prurient record. Final track “Iniquity” compliments this tonal transition with a slow-build guitar lead that eventually reaches peak velocity over several harrowing minutes of atonal madness until finally ascending into other realms as an occult-like chant brings the album to its ethereal conclusion.
Rarely does black metal strike this directly and powerfully. This is music for the end times, a manic soundtrack of the damned that is skillfully executed and performed and wonderfully produced. As the band itself inquires, who will withstand the Fires of Judgment? If Bestia Arcana have their way, the answer is none. One of the most engaging and invigorating black metal records of 2017.
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Holókauston is out via Dark Descent Records physically on June 16, but you can stream and digitally purchase it from their Bandcamp right now!