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Belphegor - Totenritual album review

Austrian veterans of the perverse get back into full gear

Cover art for Belphegor - Totenritual album

Trundling remorselessly onward, the Austrian black death war machine have maintained consistent strength and intensity since their 1993 debut EP. Focused on their MO, they’ve powered their way to Satan’s right hand with their bludgeoning whirlwind. The first six albums from 1995-2006 are brilliant examples of the form: dextrous, full-force barbarism, slavering with psychotic intent, but with 2008’s Bondage Goat Zombie unwitting self-parody crept in, the foot came off the gas and the eye off the ball a little. Subsequent offerings have been frequently excellent – 2011’s Blood Magick Necromance embraced a knack for melody previously kept at arm’s length – but 2014’s Conjuring The Dead brought a sense of diminishing returns, technical slickness sometimes pushed to the verge of sterility, inspiration wearing thin. Happily, with Totenritual, Belphegor not only recapture their bloodthirsty form, but also master some former weaknesses. Opener Baphomet nails the heaving sludge groove, a bold way to begin but a stellar showcase for the propulsive rhythms of new drummer BloodHammer, a heart-fluttering blend of mechanical proficiency and organic flair. There’s an intergenerational line-up contributing to the album’s dynamic reach; vocalist/guitarist Helmuth is pushing 50, bassist Serpenth is 34, and wee BloodHammer was two when Belphegor’s first EP came out. The band have undisputed authenticity and pioneer credentials, but the delivery feelsrevitalised by their first full-time percussionist since 2006 – Belphegor get through drummers like AA batteries, changing them when they wear out. Since his battle with typhoid fever, Helmuth has favoured guttural grunts over shrieks, but brutal DM doesn’t dominate as totally it did last time. There are gut-wrenching riffs, but artfully arranged and steeped in atmosphere. Helmuth’s range has widened and songs are sharper, more distinct, with Swinefever and Apophis among the band’s finest material.

Chris has been writing about heavy metal since 2000, specialising in true/cult/epic/power/trad/NWOBHM and doom metal at now-defunct extreme music magazine Terrorizer. Since joining the Metal Hammer famileh in 2010 he developed a parallel career in kids' TV, winning a Writer's Guild of Great Britain Award for BBC1 series Little Howard's Big Question as well as writing episodes of Danger Mouse, Horrible Histories, Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed and The Furchester Hotel. His hobbies include drumming (slowly), exploring ancient woodland and watching ancient sitcoms.