Listen to Cultes Des Ghoules
I've probably revised this review more than any other I have done to date. Coven has presented that much of a challenge. It's been 4 years since Polish avant-garde black metal band Cultes Des Ghoules released Henbane; an album that was heralded by many as being an essential listening experience and one that certainly helped steer me headfirst into the genre. Can Coven, again at 5 songs but this time running nearly 2 hours, deliver on the hype?
Right off the bat we can hear some changes this time around. After the (effective) creepy, scene-setting strings, "Prophecy..." begins as a stong opener, much like "Idylls of the Chosen Damned" on the previous album. However, the raging black thrash tremolos have been replaced with crunchy Celtic Frost riffs and tone. This is not a bad change per se, as at full tilt they are capable of raizing the entire listening space. The vocals continue to be demented as ever, and you will be hard pressed to find another band that sounds exactly like these weirdos.
But even as early as 10 minutes in, my primary concern begins to rear its head. Coven could have easily been a single disc. 2 CD's and 3 LP's is really stretching it for this material. Henbane's standard of 10 minutes per track really allowed each one to shine. While longer tracks might have worked with an increased focus on complex compositions, the runtime is mostly driven by endless repetetition of a handful of melodies. As a result there are some really fantastic moments, but not many fantastic songs.
A good example of this can be found comparing "Strange day..." to "Vintage Black Magic." Both have a slower, doomier sound with more focus on atmosphere. But while the latter track felt like the perfect interlude to break up the album, "Strange day..." makes me hit the skip button after the first 5 minutes or so. It's a shame, because I really do love certain things about it: the key intro, the ominous opening guitar hook, the haunting choral synths, the prophetic sermoning and evil cackles, the punctuated drumming. Again, great concepts and performances marred only by over-repetition.
Though I chose only one song to better explain my viewpoint, this problem unfortunately runs through the full duration of the album. As a result, Coven becomes a bit of a tedious undertaking. It's like a long family road trip: there are going to be some fun moments, memorable stops, and photo-worthy memories; but there's also the kid vomiting in the back seat, the other one screaming that she wants to get out, and the endless horizon that threatens to put you to sleep at the wheel. In the end, Coven is worth the journey, but Henbane is the superior outing. I recommend giving Coven at least two listens before you make your own decision, as I initially didn't like it at all and missed out on some of its hidden greatness.
Flight's Fav's: "The Prophecy / Devell, the Devell he is, I swer God... (Scene I)," "Satan, father, saviour, hear my prayer"