Lord of Misrule
And here it is, unexpected to most, but not really to me, the number one album of the year, Blood Ceremony’s Lord of Misrule. This is a band I have great fondness and affection for, and their last record, The Eldritch Dark, was my number one pick for 2013, so this should come as no surprise. It is also the least-heavy of all my list.
The digital version was available in February and I immediately downloaded and listened. It didn’t impress me much. Oh, it was good, and professional, but nothing really stuck with me. And that was okay, because every album they’ve ever released has been like this. This band is the definition of a “grower” listen because it takes several spins. For me, it clicked when I got the vinyl, sat down with the lyrics, and cranked the stereo.
The album opens with a haunting guitar line, creeping background organ, a slight drum clack, and then it roars in, all flutes, riffs, bass, and drums. “The Devil’s Widow” picks up pace and rocks, Alia O’Brien’s vocals ethereal and powerful all at once. Guitarist Sean Kennedy propels the whole thing along with powerful chunks. The story of the song weaves its spell, rocking and rolling, old school Sabbath riffs, seering guitar solo, sliding into a flute solo. This is great stuff, even if it takes some unpacking to appreciate. But that’s the genius of this band. 4:40 in and the song settles into a slow vibe, dropping down to acoustic guitar, flute, and Alia’s voice. The witchy vibe is unmistakable and, as always, seductive, giving you a moment to pause and reflect. And then that opening repeats itself, and the riff returns, and you’re back to banging your head.
“Lorely” is pure psychedelic rock joy. This sounds like something the Turtles might have written, if they were of the mind to wield those guitars with some crunch. Atmospheric and playful, but all the while dark and dangerous, this is the kind of track that will get stuck in your head for days on end. Keyboards are to the fore here, but not in some sappy way, the guitar all reverb, with some old school Witchcraft-style riffs to flesh it out. At 2:50 it goes full psych for a moment, the sweet guitar solo reminiscent of the early 70’s. Man, Kennedy plays with full soul.
Next song “Rogue’s Lot” brings the riffs back, echoing their Sabbathian roots, settling into a doomy dirge. “How do the living raise the dead?” Alia asks, and you know, instinctively, it’s with songs just like this one. All doom until it rolls into some psych for the chorus and then back to the dirge. Good, good stuff.
Epic album title “Lord of Misrule” follows and it may not seem like an epic at first, but those cascading riffs and the steady rhythm punch this thing into drive and it rocks along, some tasty licks accentuating the feel. Pure occult, pure rock, and all things mighty. Alia’s vocals are not the most powerful but they work, the thinness and fragility adding to the overall effect. Which isn’t to say she can’t sing or bring the power, it’s just different than someone who belts out a song. She lives in it, giving it whatever it needs. Moody is a word that keeps coming up with this record and moody this song is. A blood-red dusk is settling over the land, and the feast is turning from revelry to something decidedly more dangerous.
“Half Moon Street” is the next song and was the one I took the longest to warm to. Now it is my favorite. An almost jaunty riff starts the proceedings, the flute comes in, levelling the sound, smoothing it out, and Alia begins the tale of weird mysticism. This song is swirling fog around a sputtering gaslight lamp, tall brick buildings, ancient tomes, old men meeting, and treachery. “But I’m in league with something older” tells the truth about this song and the band. There is a sly undercurrent of ancient occultism here and you either get into it and love it or it passes right by and you don’t care. For me, it works.
Another slow, moody (there’s that word again) piece comes next. Psychedelic (did I mention this album has a lot of those flourishes?) and quiet, “The Weird of Finistere” builds its weird cadence, seducing you quietly as it worms into your brain. By the end you’re chanting along, not quite sure why you’re enjoying it so damned much. This one doesn’t rock, but it rolls.
“Flower Phantoms” returns to that pure 60’s psych rock sound. If you close your eyes, you can picture the girls bopping along in mini-dresses, all decked in out pastel flower-power groove. Almost pure pop, you might wonder where all the hard rock and metal has gone but you won’t care. It’s so pretty it’s hard to deny. And catchy. There’s nothing sell-out about it; this is a band exploring its roots. And that guitar solo…
Next to last song “Old Fires” brings back the swagger, a riff that makes you want to cry, punching your face as this one rollicks along. This song is joyous dancing around a bonfire, gone skyclad, all muscle and grit, light and shadow. 2:25 in settles into a drop down organ groove, the drums and bass remarkable, doing what they do the entire album, giving a solid, rocking backdrop. Kennedy blazes in with his best solo yet, the power of it building and building and building, sweeping you along until…in comes the opening riff, bludgeoning in its polite way, the song rocking out all over again. Man, this is great stuff, and really does compete with Half Moon Street as my favorite track. Pure Blood Ceremony.
“Things Present, Things Past,” the final song, is a ballad. Acoustic guitars bring this Wicker Man to life, bits of organ underlying the thing, bass the foundation, drums shuffling, flute accenting. Again, Blood Ceremony, at its purest. The druids sing, the maidens dance. 3:15, the song shifts slightly, the flute taking us on a deeper journey, bodies swaying by the campfire, as ancient spirits fly around, filling the air with their phantom tales. The song fades off and the grin creeps across your face as it comes back, all Beatles-esque for a second. This is a perfect way to end a nearly perfect record.
Don’t come into this one expecting furious thrash or cold black metal. Come into it expecting mood and texture and yes, riffs and flutes (hey, that’s what they do). Let it wash over you. Soon its infectious songs will seduce you, like any great music does.
Note: I could not find a full album stream, so here are some vids I pulled.