Saturday, May 15, 2010

Belfegor - The Kingdom of Glacial Palaces

Belfegor - The Kingdom of Glacial Palaces
2001, WW3 Music

Before I begin this review properly, let me just say here that I was highly impressed by the promo package that I received from this record label. Not only did they send it promptly after I requested it from them, in an initial salvo of propoganda that, going by the one-sheets included in the package, was designed to cover most of the underground's 'major' arenas of press notification, but the presentation itself was stunning: in the package were the promos, bio/information sheets, postcards, and three large posters. From the start, this lets people know that WW3 is very serious about claiming their place among other record labels, they can handle the 'press' in a very professional manner, and that they are not being stingy with promotion or advertisement...I can't say a great deal about the packaging of the actual releases, as I only have the promos in cardboard sleeves, but if they are any indication of their commercial formats, I am sure this new label makes it a priority to release only the highest quality of experienced graphic/material design...

So what can I say about Belfegor? First of all there is a disquieting similarity with Immortal being not-so-subtly propounded here, or taken advantage of: from their guitar sound, which echoes 'Pure Holocaust' and 'Battles in the North' faithfully (but which has been given a boost here by the 'better' production) to the cover imagery (once again, a reference to the Sons of Northern Darkness, evoking both 'At The Heart of Winter' and, as an aside, Burzum's 'Det Som Engang Var'), from the song titles, some of which include 'Diabolical (Demonic Desire)', 'The Ravengate of Winter', 'We Go Through The Snow', and the title track (the music of which, I must admit, sounds exactly like Immortal, even down to some of the vocal rhythms and cadences used); to the music itself, which may not have a direct relationship to Immortal (I hear, rather, more influence from Gorgoroth and Darkthrone most of the time, and I actually noticed a little of Keep of Kalessin in here), but which manages to effortlessly reference the former in a number of strategic locations, almost in an casual,offhand, trite manner, as if they were saying 'Yes, of course we love Immortal, and we follow in their footsteps, what will you do about it?' The vocals are obviously descended from Immortal, about that there can't be any doubt at all...

I admit that I have to laugh when I consider how Abbath would react to listening to this...whether he would be flattered, angered, or feel a stirring of nostalgia (probably a mixture of all three) I can't say for certain...but this band will surely never tour with the new Nuclear Blast (retch) incarnation of his once mighty ensemble...it would just be too confusing for the audience.

Belfegor, however, are from Poland, not Norway - so why do they rely so much on their Norwegian 'influences'? Is the music of the past, the music of this other country, so central to Scandinavia's tradition, really so important to their own identity and their love of black metal that it must be virtually reproduced? Do they have any kind of contact with that it happening in their own country at the moment, or what has transpired there in the last decade? I can't answer these questions...only the band can. Going from what I hear in the music, however, I think I can safely say that this band look back to pre-'94 Norwegian metal with an obvious reverence, a sort of overly familiar treasuring of an icon that they must feel reached a perfection not found elsewhere...

And, after all, this was inevitable...it was only a matter of time before Immortal, Darkthrone, Gorgoroth, Mayhem, Enslaved, Emperor, etc. became just as influential as Bathory or any of their own influences...if this band makes this clear through their unashamed hero-worship, well...at least they are honest about it.

I can't say that much about the history of this band, as this is my first contact with them, and their bio sheet is less than helpful when it comes to forming some kind of idea of their musical heritage and place in the scene. Is this their first album? I can't even say that for sure. I am hoping it is, as this work shows a complete mastery of the Norse black metal aesthetics, and they can use this expertise as something to expand upon in the future as they search for their own identity. If they are this good now, at mimicking a style that was formed almost a decade ago, and feel so comfortable within its confines, I think they will be able to build upon it quickly...if they want to...

So, for the most part, this is very fast, trebly, grim, cold, epic, traditional black metal, the style you are doubtlessly very familiar with now...and from the above description you probably know already whether or not you want to give it a listen. I will say that I would rather put this album in my stereo before Immortal's last two fiascos, and if there are any others out there, like me, who wished Immortal had not deviated from their sound after 'Blizzard Beasts', well...you should really seek this out, as it could have been the album that band released after 'Battles In The North' - in sound, vision, production, and thematic material, it picks up in Immortal's legacy/history right at that point, and proceeds in a quite logical manner to build its own icebound world.

In addition, I should say that even though this is very derivative and borrows so much what has come before, it is not in any way a 'bad' example of music - no, not at all. On the contrary, it is performed in a very capable manner, and some of the melodies used here could easily equal the best work of the Norwegians. I can't help but think that if this band, for example, touted their Polish heritage instead of their current 'northern-looking' musical tastes, they would be hailed across Eastern Europe for their melodic sensibility...such are the predictable ways in which the metal audience as a whole react to their perceptions of a band's influences. If this group were Norwegian, for example, they would be met with strong cheers of 'Uphold the glory of the past!', and they wouldn't have any kind of trouble at all in establishing their name in the grand black metal tradition they admire so much - well, this seems obvious enough to me, you may think differently. In any case...I can't help but think that nationalistic lines are crossed here in a fine manner, and that such boundaries are shown to be essentially useless by this method of borrowing musical inspiration from the scene's forefathers (who just happen to be Norwegian and not Polish), but at this point there is more of an emphasis, within the scene worldwide, of drawing in a very strong fashion the lines of nations and their respective musical gatherings...a band that dares to cross these patriotic/nationalistic lines will be left out in the cold more often than not - especially a group from Poland.

So, to sum up, I can only say: Belfegor are distinctly strange, seeking to breathe/bleed out again so much of their inspiring influences, but that is not a bad thing in itself, as it gives us even more of what we are looking for - grim Northern darkness - and because this band executes their objectives and musical goals with so much precision and talent, I can't help but recommend this album for those of you who primarily look backward, instead of towards the future, when contemplating 'excellence' in black metal. I, for one, really enjoy listening to this...