Okay, so whenever someone who’s uninitiated first encounters Blood Ceremony, there’s a general predilection to say ‘oh, it’s Black Sabbath with a flute.’ The brain connects those pathways easily, and then without further inspection, the die is cast and the listener thinks they know Blood Ceremony inside and out.
But lo, we know there’s more to the story, don’t we? The Canadian doom-y quartet hits all those hallmarks, yes, but they also expand into further and more indirect influences, gathering a throng of musical ideas ranging from devilish to celebratory and stirring them into a cavernous cauldron of rhythm, emotion…and yes, flute.
The band that first impressed with their self-titled debut in 2008 and floored us with the apex of “The Eldritch Dark” in 2013 returns this year with “Lord of Misrule,” an album that promises both more of the same and something inimitably more.
This record takes inspiration from the old Feast of Fools, which up until roughly the Enlightenment was celebrated in England in the saturnine custom of pagans. The celebration was always roughly concurrent with Christmas and involved, among other revelry, the naming of a Lord of Misrule, who wielded authority during the festival, but was often sacrificed to Saturn at the end of it. The band has said that there’s no single concept running through this new record, but that the central idea was in their minds during composition.
So what does the album sound like? Let’s hit the highlights (spoiler, there’s a bunch.)
What one notices first and foremost is that Blood Ceremony is folding in many more aspects of rock and metal than they did even in their most recent works. To hear “Half Moon Street” is to hear an opening that swaggers like a gunfighter sauntering confidently into an old west saloon…but if the saloon were full of suspicious-looking elves and owned by dryads. There’s an earthiness that underwrites the entire song, including into the second half when the powder keg explodes and we’re thrust headlong into a shoot-out at the Tolkien corral. The name Ian Anderson gets dropped a lot (too often) when talking about Blood Ceremony, but Alia O’Brien unleashes the most righteous flute solo (words I didn’t think I’d type today,) since Anderson was in his heyday. If you hadn’t gathered, “Half Moon Street” is the album’s best cut.
But wait, there’s more! While the Black Sabbath comparisons in this genre are overused and over-simplified, they’re not always without merit. While those boys would never have penned the flighty outro to “Loreley,” Iommi and company could have absolutely crafted the rusted, grinding edge of “The Rogue’s Lot,” a slow burning dirge that throws shadows in its wake.
We’re not done! Tune in a few songs later and you’ll walk unheeding into “Flower Phantoms,” and now we’re hearing….sixties folk pop? Short a tambourine, that’s exactly where we are, and the riff of Sean Kennedy is the perfect tone to replicate that feeling of go-go gone by, Michael Carrillo’s drum beat a spot-on replica of rolls and fills from nearly fifty years ago. It’s a song that shouldn’t work but mysteriously does, part of O’Brien’s continued spell on the listener and the capable craftsmanship of the band as a whole.
“The Eldritch Dark” was a top ten album in 2013, and at the risk of making a rash judgment, “Lord of Misrule” might well be better than that record, which tells you its prospects as we forge ahead. Blood Ceremony has dropped a nearly flawless album of retro-metal and classic rock, and it is not to be missed.