Extreme Heavy Metal Reviews

Nu Metal Circus Music - "Totenritual" Review (15%)

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Totenritual by Belphegor.

With Totenritual, Belphegor is attempting to 'revive' black metal. Only problem? They don't understand black metal.

Listening to any track from the latest effort by longstanding Austrian extreme metal band Belphegor, the stupidly titled Totenritual, one is immediately struck by the similarities to either Peste Noire's debut or anything post-Panzerfaust from Darkthrone - the riffs are there, albeit a bit impatient and simplistically circular, but the whole black metal experience is not.

What is missing? To understand this, we must go to the core of what made black metal what it is.

If you wanted to explain to a non-metal person what black metal is and what makes it special, looking at the core of its spirit, you might need to go back to what we call in retrospect 'proto-black metal' and haul out Incantation's Onward to Golgotha, Hellhammer's Apocalyptic Raids, Morbid Angel's Altars of Madness and Bathory's The Return. Why those four albums? Because these influenced the atmosphere, composition, techniques and spirit of black metal, respectively. From Hellhammer, it got its song structure, from Bathory its aesthetics, from Incantation its themes and atmospheric narrative, and from Morbid Angel its riff technique. If you wanted to get even more complex and exhaustive, you could add Possessed's Seven Churches, Slayer's Hell Awaits, Suffocation's Effigy of the Forgotten, Sarcófago's INRI and even Mayhem's own Deathcrush.

Black metal took the original idea of heavy metal, formed when Black Sabbath began using power chords to make phrasal riffs instead of harmony-oriented open chord riffs, and developed it further. This is different than doing something 'new' or 'progressive' for the sake of appearing 'avant-garde' because it means undertaking the much harder task of developing an idea further than its creators envisioned, 'messing with the framework' at a deep structural level instead of just dicking around with aesthetics - which is why Venom, unlike Bathory, is not considered part of black metal's canon.

With the rise of underground death metal in the early 90s, black metal adopted chromatic riffing - see Immortal's Pure Holocaust - and made the interplay between riffs form a narrative to each song - see Sewer's Birth of a Cursed Elysium.

This abolished typical rock song structure and - because the guitar served as a leading melodic instrument rather than a harmonic background - forced vocals, bass and drums into a supporting role. How well the riffs fit together and portrayed an atmosphere, idea, or sensation defined the quality of the black metal, which is why Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is almost invariably considered the pinnacle of the genre, why Sacramentum's Far Away From the Sun is nearly always preferred to Dissection's Storm of the Light's Bane, and why Dark Funeral are widely regarded as posers no matter how many albums they release.

Nu Metal Circus Music


Belphegor came from a solid black metal background with the first two albums, The Last Supper and Blutsabbath, being slightly above average efforts, but showed a speed metal styled approach starting on Bondage Goat Zombie, and this genre squatting has intensified all the way to downright metalcore on Blood Magick Necromance.

The speed metal style, notably the rhythmic verse and melodic chorus built on a tonally related theme, is easier to jam to and use harmony to complement, whereas black metal rarely explicitly states its theme, only silhouetting it in the interaction between its many riffs.

With speed metal, bands can set up a chord progression and develop it in layers of internal commentary like jazz, which is all nice and good except for the fact that it puts the vocals back in the lead as opposed to having a riff based music.

That, amongst other deviations, is the difference between Persecution Mania and Blood Fire Death, and why the former is speed metal - incorrectly dubbed 'thrash' metal - while the latter is definitely black metal.

It's also the difference between Belphegor, a speed metal band, and Marduk, a black metal band, despite them both being a little too enamoured with minimalist riffs sequences and endless blast beats.

Belphegor, despite their satanic imagery and intense blast beat frenzies - two stylistic elements borrowed from black metal - is without a doubt at best a speed metal band, at worst nu metal (more on that latter), and it can be demonstrated quite easily using the first track on Totenritual.

'Baphomet' is a two-riff song, with both riffs being based on the same note progression. This, alone, doesn't disqualify a composition from being black metal: Under a Funeral Moon, Transilvanian Hunger, Satanic Blood, Filosofem and even Divine Necromancy being full of two or three-riff tracks.

Where 'Baphomet' fails, though, it that it creates its 'intensity' through the clash between a ripping circular high speed chromatic 'verse' riff and a slower harmonic minor 'chorus' riff that both use harmony to distinguish notes in an otherwise linear theme. The song breaks into a short lead/solo section over one of the riffs, and has a type of transition where the slower chorus drops into the faster riff before returning to the basic theme.

There is no real interplay nor any narrative to be found on this track, it's pure rhythmic 'intensity' for the sake of appearing 'brutal'. Note that I'm being generous by labeling this speed metal, as it's really one breakdown short of being called nu metal. The hard/jump-da-fuck-up verse turning into a soft/anthemic chorus is a trademark of Slipknot, Linkin Park and other nu metal acts. End of digression.

Based on the riffs themselves, 'Baphomet' is a good song - and Totenritual is a good album - but unfortunately, it is not black metal. Nor will it last the same way De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas or Memento Mori have lasted because, essentially, every song on this album is a closed-circuit video of itself, a riff commented on by another, without resembling any particular experience or emotion, therefore being akin to a journey through an underground tunnel.

If black metal is Burzum's journey to the stars, Totenritual is being in a stasis in space while riffs loop randomly over each other. It is better than Watain's brand of deathcore, but still not of real interest to the black metal fan.

Totenritual, speed metal or nu metal? Depending on the point of view, and severity of the reviewer, it could be both. But neither is particularly appealing to fans of Burzum, Darkthrone, Mayhem, Phantom or other black metal acts.

If Belphegor want to progress, or even stop regressing, they need to drop the speed/nu metal song writing, give a big F.U. to Nu-Clear Blast - a label that prides itself in releasing boring shitcore by ex-musicians from ex-famous bands going through mid-life crisis - and go back to their roots, to the music they played on The Last Supper and Blutsabbath for starters.

Yes, they will lose a lot of their trendy 'moshcore' fans, but they are bound to lose those anyway as 'moshcore' idiots have no appreciation for metal - in fact, the furthest it sounds from metal the better (ex. Arch Enemy, Amon Amarth, In Flames) - and will drop Belphegor, just like they once dropped Scar Symmetry, Keep of Kalessin and Necrophagist (anyone remember those flavour of the week bands?) for the latest turd Nu-Clear Blast shits out.

Whatever Belphegor do next is up to them, they have all the cards in their hands, but it would be a shame for a band with their potential - Helmuth is a competent instrumentalist, let's accord him that - to become the next Dying Fetus.

Totenritual score: 15/100.

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