Belphegor – Totenritual

The numbers don’t seem to quite add up here. If you look at Belphegor’s latest studio album, Totenritual (Nuclear Blast), on paper it appears to be winner. The production and mix is airtight, drum and guitar tones are punched in exactly where they should be, and Belphegor is nothing if not an extreme metal institution. But despite all of that, many of the tracks displayed on Totenritual just don’t pop or speak to me.

You can point to a variety of factors as to why I’m not connecting with Totenritual (up to and including questioning my kvlt credibility), but ultimately, it comes down to song structure. While ‘The Devil’s Son’ and ‘Swinefever – Regent of Pigs’ hit the listener’s eardrums like a meteor strike, they’re quite similar with regards to their riff-verse arrangements. To further add to the similarities both songs start with vague anti-religious samples that aren’t really needed. Also, there’s the matter of Helmuth’s vocals being too frequent and overpowering. As soon as he starts roaring, the riffs take a back seat. ‘Apophis – Black Dragon’ escape this trapping by featuring less of Helmuth’s bark and interjecting ominous chanting vocals sporadically.

Totenritual’s second half really comes alive because we’re less restricted by the rigid structure stated above. ‘Spell of Reflection’ slows down Simon Schilling’s inhuman drumming to make room for some doom encrusted riffs and wicked leads. ‘Embracing a Star’ delves further into uncharted waters and even dares to bring in some introspective acoustic guitars. That brief ceasefire then yields to layers of staccato rhythms that eventually build right up into a blast beat fusillade courtesy of Schilling’s calloused hands and feet.

This isn’t a bad album. Shit, most bands would wish to play at this technical level, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to grow. Sure, if Belphegor would’ve completely thrown out the playbook we’d never hear the end of it from the ficklest fanatics of all: metalheads. Let’s all just try to keep an open mind is all I’m saying.