The Devil looms large over the metal underground.
Whether you have a penchant for the supernatural or just a passing interest in how utterly fucked up religion can be, Satan’s presence in our world has long been established as essential, from Sabbath to Venom to Mayhem and beyond. In fact, he gets everywhere these days, as Ghost’s recent triumph at the Grammys will attest.
For Toronto’s Blood Ceremony – one of the few bands propagating an effective blend of Sabbath-esque oomph and prog-psych trimmings before the occult rock bandwagon really started rolling – the Dark One provides a neat starting point for Lord Of Misrule, their fourth full-length and a self-evident milestone for all concerned.
“I think for us, the Devil’s an important literary figure,” says guitarist Sean Kennedy. “Most LaVeyan Satanists probably wouldn’t think of him as a real being, but as an important symbol. But for us, he’s just an interesting character! On Lord Of Misrule there are a lot of carnivalesque elements and the Devil comes in to disrupt the social order, so he’s a mischievous character, a trickster, rather than anything necessarily evil.”
These are, of course, well-worn and traditional themes for bands who belong to the broader doom metal and psychedelic rock realm, but somehow the new Blood Ceremony album wrings fresh intrigue from those familiar ingredients, exhibiting a disregard for genre conventions and even their own tried and tested formulae. Satan’s mischief clearly extends to the music itself, as more refined songwriting is balanced out by some of the most adventurous and experimental sounds the band have yet produced.
“Oh yeah, there’s so much you can do,” Sean avows. “I don’t feel we’d ever be limited or confined by the style we fell into when we started the group. Obviously if you name your band Blood Ceremony, you’re setting up certain expectations as far as lyrics and music are concerned. At first, a lot of people thought we were a death metal band. Some people we talked to after shows were pleasantly surprised! But there’s just so much you can write about and we’re all interested in a lot of strange movies and supernatural writers… there’s so much to draw upon so I don’t think we’ve exhausted our well of ideas yet. We’re in a good spot right now.”
It might seem odd to attribute rebellious instincts to a band who play music that could – somewhat cruelly, not to mention erroneously – be reduced to the epithet ‘Sabbath meets Tull’, but even within the relatively stable demands of the doom scene that spawned them, Blood Ceremony are still kicking against the pricks. They’re hardly the first to attempt such a thing, but Lord Of Misrule’s bonus selling point is that it was recorded entirely with analogue equipment, from tracking to mastering: a statement of stubborn resistance to the modern world, perhaps, or maybe just a declaration of love for a more imperfect time.
“This is the first 100% analogue recording we have done. We’ve always recorded live to tape and then mixed and mastered digitally, but this is the first one where the record you buy won’t have been digitised at any point in the process,” Sean explains with obvious pride. “But we’re not necessarily trying to sound like an old band. We’re not really thinking about that when we’re writing songs, but I guess there’s a sound quality from that era that we just prefer, you know? It was the golden era of heavy rock and psychedelic rock and the beginnings of heavy metal. Records sounded better then. It’s just what we grew up with. The state of pop music is just abysmal now. Everything’s mastered to be as loud as it can possibly be on an iPod. We just wanted to record in the same way that our favourite 60s and 70s groups did.”
As Lord Of Misrule demonstrates once again, singer and flautist Alia O’Brien is Blood Ceremony’s not-so-secret weapon, not least in terms of the songs she brought to the table this time round. In particular, the blackened soul of Loreley brings shades of Northern Soul and Beatles-like psychedelia to bear on the band’s otherwise thunderous gait. The results are undeniably reminiscent of decades past, and yet there is also an ageless charm to the whole thing, a sense of melancholy detachment from the here and now and an audible revelling in the sonically organic.
“A lot of the lyrics deal with pastoral themes of a timeless past, and definitely the sound is more rooted in the sounds of developing heavy music in the late 60s and early 70s,” the guitarist states. “That’s by preference and choice, really. It’s not just a naïve sense of nostalgia where ‘Things were simpler in the 60s!’ I think things were just as fucked up then as they are now. It’s not like a rejection of technology either, but maybe a rejection of newer technology. Any mistakes and errors that wind up on our recording, it just adds character. Those 60s bands sounded pretty messy and I think that’s a big part of the music’s charm.”
As with all bold musical adventures, the Devil lies very much in the detail of Lord Of Misrule. Blood Ceremony are proving the efficacy of going with what feels right, rather than what’s expected or what would have the greatest impact. And while Sean is understandably philosophical about the likelihood of his band following Ghost into the mainstream, there’s no denying that Satan’s jukebox is far richer for the Canadians’ latest contribution.
“We’re just having a good time, making a racket and doing what we want to do,” Sean shrugs. “That’s what we’ve always done. We don’t really have any crazy ambitions to be this big band. We like to tour, we like to make records, and we’re happy with those opportunities. Basically, this is our favourite thing to do.”
LORD OF MISRULE IS OUT NOW VIA RISE ABOVE