“The Devil’s Blood is a dedication to principles and principals more ancient than Time, a branch of a tree greater than the World, an exclamation of both the profound and the profane. The Devil’s Blood has always been one of the many vessels through which the Light of the Devil shines upon the darkness of the world and shall always be the possible entrance to a path walked alone. But only for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. This path starts not in understanding but in confusion.” — The Devil’s Blood
While über-evil posturing has saturated the metal realm since year zero, much of it has been symbolic, gestural at best. All that nefariousness might have added to the wonderfully outrageous myths of metal, but with many bands’ ‘wickedness’ being nothing more than a lazy gimmick, it does little to bolster the genre’s credibility as a site of any serious devilry. That’s not to suggest that sacrilegious or iniquitous narratives are a ruse. It’s impossible to dismiss the devilish dispositions of a raft of bands, many of which have the capacity to genuinely unnerve. However, it’s not necessarily the ferocious demoniacal walls of noise that are truly disturbing. A resurgent occult rock scene has reminded us that some of the most unsettling themes come swathed in the sweetest parcels. It’s that sinful missive you find after the unwrapping that’s often the most disconcerting, not the pentagrams scribbled on the packaging.
One of the leading lights of this black arts revival is Dutch band the Devil’s Blood. The duo, consisting of chief songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Selim Lemouchi, along with his sister, vocalist F, first came to the attention of the metal fraternity with 2008’s Come, Reap EP. Its debut full-length, The Time of No Time Evermore confirmed the band’s occultist persona. With a blend of enticing melodies set around the most profane lyrics, the band is undeniably bewitching, and its new release, The Thousandfold Epicentre, has some of the most tempting devilishness heard in years.
Utilizing a deeply theatrical approach, one framed by a motif of classic ’70s satanic horror, the Devil’s Blood crafts its infernal aesthetic by evoking the sinister side of ’60s psychedelia and ’70s hard and progressive rock. The group is built upon the proto-metal foundations laid by bands such as Coven, Pentagram and Salem Mass (infused with a fair dose of Mercyful Fates’ ferventness). It also draws from the eccentricity of Hawkwind and the rougher hues of Heart and Jefferson Airplane — vocalist F has all the husky irresistibility of Ann Wilson or Grace Slick. While there are parallels to be drawn with similar vintage rock acts, Canada’s Blood Ceremony being obvious contemporaries, the one element that defines the Devil’s Blood is its zealous esotericism, which brings it into line philosophically with Swedish black metal band Watian.
Melodic, vintage and ritualistic rock is what you’ll find on The Thousandfold Epicentre, but anyone expecting brisk odes to Satan, a la the similarly themed Ghost, is set to be challenged, as the Devil’s Blood hasn’t held back in the slightest. The album has an ambitious vision, and is imbued with layers of instrumentation and lush orchestrations. Reverb-soaked riffs, organ, acoustic guitars, piano and the weaving threads of psych otherworldliness make for a rich and darkly spiritual experience. But with over an hour’s worth of material, the band’s mix of pop-sensibilities and ’70s experimentalism requires a great deal of time to absorb. Of course, that’s the point; everything on The Thousandfold Epicentre has been arranged to evoke a specific atmosphere. The fact that you have to pay such close attention only draws you in further.
All that visionary might would be wasted without the musical finesse to back it up. Thankfully, Lemouchi proves to be a master in that regard. With many songs passing the seven-minute mark, including a mammoth 15-minute finale, the album’s overall length and density will be an issue for some, but it has been expertly paced. From the first seconds of intro track, “Unending Singularity”, you’re awash in classic rock riffs and creepy psychedelic swirls. While the rolling crescendos and serpentine solos of the following track, “On the Wings of Gloria”, exemplifies the progressive reverie that defines the album.
Shorter, crunchier tracks such as the rollicking “Die the Death” and “Fire Burning”, along with the utterly majestic romp of “She”, do much to emphasize the strength of F’s multilayered harmonies and Lemouchi’s ability to balance pop-savvy arrangements with his dark lyrics. While the album’s rockier numbers are a blast, it’s the heavily psychedelic tracks that bring the band’s finest attributes to the fore. “The Thousandfold Epicentre”, with its Jethro Tull flourishes and circuitous riffs, is nine minutes of progressive rock heaven (or should that be hell?). Its rousing refrain, “I call your name… Devil”, is backed up by an eerie mix of electric and acoustic guitars, which add to its sinister hallucinatory ambience.
The final three songs, an elongated coda of sorts, are where the group really goes to work. The mellifluous creep of “Everlasting Saturnalia” serves as an understated overture to “The Madness of Serpents”, which itself dissolves, after stirring choral vocals and piano thumping, into final track “Feverdance”. With its opening bucolic gambit and cosmic burbles, the track laboriously ramps up the teeth-clenching tension with psychedelic squalls of guitar. Inevitably, and mercifully, it detonates spectacularly, burning out on some very apt Hammer Horror-esque organ.
The most obvious question is: where does the band go from here? There’s clearly no shortage of lyrical inspiration — any serious student of occultism knows it’s a lifelong pursuit, with death, I imagine, providing the final answer. That Lemouchi and F have summoned up a tour de force of supernatural rock is indisputable. Whether you’ve the patience for it or not is another matter. But the sheer exquisite depths and cinematic breadth of The Thousandfold Epicentre leaves one wondering how the band will top this without drifting into the realms of serious self-indulgence, although ultimately that’s a question to be answered on the next release. As it is, the album makes for a magnificent acid-drenched workout and there’s no doubting the band’s resolutely occultist ethos. While heckles are raised when terms like ‘vintage’ and ‘retro’ are tossed about, the Devil’s Blood has undeniably evoked the electrifying rush of ’60s and ’70s occult rock. What sprits they have invoked along the way, well, that’s a whole other story.