Ah, the devil communicates in Italian. How very fitting: Black Metal moving closer to Rome, spiked fists and all. But then Darkend are speaking in tongues on The Canticle of Shadows – many tongues. Mixing English with Italian, French, Latin into the fray. A real tower of Babylon, but what else would you expect from the devil? Right?
Dissonance at every corner, monologues and a weird Lovecraft-esque type of nightmare Black Metal of the melodic kind. Some of that stuff is very reminiscent of the liturgical Batushka, keeping you unhinged like Myrkur at every turn of this stony path with a mighty splash of Cradle of Filth, Rotten Christ and Dimmu Borgir.
Darkend do call themselves Extreme Ritual Art or Metal and listening to The Canticle of Shadows, they got a point. This is going beyond the ‘usual’ Melodic Black Metal offerings we get to hear and these guys have a lot to offer. Melodic meets dark, raspy vocals all over the record; brutal and relentless drum blasts are seconded by meaty riffing, like being in a fucking #metal cave. Add some Gregorian chanting to this mix and this gets as completely Black Metal as can be. Now on top, the band likes to throw in some Progressive elements, using wind instruments in some passages in A Precipice Towards Abyssal Caves (Inmost Chasm, I). In short, Darkend have pulled all the registers.
If anything, The Canticle of Shadows is a louder and more intense version of their former brethren Assassine and Grand Guignol – Book I. And they have lost some of this distinct Cradle of Filth flavor that was very evident on Grand Guignol for example, which in my book is a very positive point. Noteworthy are the lengths of the tracks too, none of the seven present being shorter than 4 1/2 minutes. This in itself is usually a good sign, only here some of that stuff comes along as a bit stretched.
I am also kind of dissatisfied with the record. Something that only becomes apparent after listening some time to Canticle. It is like you cooking this superb pottage, all major and quality ingredients. But then, instead of subtly adding spices to make everything stand out, you just cook and salt everything to death. So much so that salt is all you taste in a mass of bland and foetid ingredients. And this is the impression that you get from The Canticle of Shadows. Methinks that they brickwalled this record like there is no tomorrow. And this results in a sound assault that is very intense and unvaried, leading to listening fatigue relatively quickly. In the end you get the impression of having heard the same thing all over again, which indeed is not true, when taking a closer look at the ingredients available in this Black Metal pot.
And did they put extra effort into this record, adding no less than four guest vocalists: Niklas Kvaforth of Shining on A Passage Through Abysmal Caverns (Inmost Chasm, II), Attila Csihar of Mayem on two tracks. Then Sakis Tolis, known for his involvement with Rotting Christ on Congressus Cum Daemone and last, but not least, Labes C. Necrothytus from Abysmal Grief on Il Velo Delle Ombre. Now, all this firepower should have an impact. Right? Well, sadly the aforementioned lavishly applied sound limiters kind of mushed these tracks the same way, so here we go.
And this is a pity. ‘Cause a lot of good is mixed into all this compression madness. Already Clavicula Salomonis bombastically takes this ship off the ground. Full of grand hooks, delightful riffs, mumbled raspy monologues interspersed with some clear voice vocals. Animae (Luca Gregori) at his best. And they got the theatrical beast in them too as Of The Defunct – being a good example – can attest.
They do include some chants at some points, spicing up things some. But not to the great extent that Batushka were able to do. I also enjoyed the dialogue with the demon on some of the tracks, some of that in English, some in French. Now cathedral-laden bombast is really taking over in Sealed In Black Moon And Saturn. You’ve got to wait to the last track of The Canticle of Shadows, though, to get to the real good stuff. Congressus Cum Daemone (the one featuring Sakis Tolis) will take you on a pretty stiff ride down that hellish pit. A low to mid-tempo track with cool riffing, but the soloing on that one is outstanding in context with the theme of the track.
Now, to really appreciate their musical powers and the somewhat famous scene effects, I probably gotta go see them live. There the different elements will be better discernible than on this disc, as it is presented today.
The Canticle of Shadows was not an easy one to rate. Given the excellent musical prowess of the band and the inventive nature of their style, this should have turned out to be a great record fetching slightly less than the top spot. As it happens, the mixing and mastering crew (I suspect..) carefully murdered what should be superb Ritual Black Metal and this will knock a few points off the rating. A pity, if you look at the complete offering, which overall is very good and deserves a lot of credit.
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