Blood Ceremony strike evil, occult gold on great third record ‘The Eldritch Dark’

blood ceremony
I’m a major proponent of listening to an album many times before deciding on what I think of it. That might seem like a basic, obvious thing to say, but considering so many gut reactions flood the internet when a record is released, I wonder how many people remember to sit back with a piece of work, immerse themselves in it, and see if they don’t come around.

If I didn’t practice patience and absorption in listening, I might have written off “The Eldritch Dark,” the third record from Toronto-based occult rockers Blood Ceremony. I listen to their first two records–their 2008 self-titled debut and 2011’s “Living With the Ancients”–constantly and know those albums inside and out, so when this new record dropped and had an approach and personality completely different from those first couple of releases, I had to deal with a sense of shock. This is not the type of music I expect from this band, free-spirited, classic rock-style compositions that bubble with life and are practically joyous in their outward demeanor. I was used to longer, more brooding, more adventure-style songs, so it took some time to get used to this.

blood ceremony albumLuckily I kept at it, and now I might prefer “The Eldritch Dark” over the rest of their catalog. It’s immediate, it’s catchy, it sounds inspired by the past but made by modern-day musicians who take their muse in a different direction. I can’t stop listening to the thing, and as weird and diverse as this record is on the surface, it’s still Blood Ceremony through and through. It’s still alluringly dark, it feels like it was pieced together from the pages of tragic and violent folklore. It just might be the record that gets this band over with a larger audience in the States, because this album rocks with a style and swagger never heard before from this band that they handle and pull off expertly. This very well could be their breakthrough effort, and damn it if they don’t deserve it.

Alia O’Brien remains the centerpoint of this incredible band, both because of her powerful pipes that drive their dark storytelling and her flute playing, which rivals Ian Anderson’s work with Jethro Tull. But let’s not discount the rest of this unit, including excellent guitarist Sean Kennedy, who does some of his finest work to date on this album, and rock-solid rhythm section Lucas Gadke on bass and Michael Carrillo on drums. The band created a record that should satisfy those who have been on board for the last few albums, and it should expand their audience even further to grab those who get into classic rock and more traditional forms of metal. These songs are killers, and if they got radio airplay, there’s no way anyone could think the tracks were out of place.

The record kicks off with the raucous “Witchwood,” a song that could make new Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Heart overcome with pride, from the guitar work that cuts down the middle, to O’Brien’s expressive storytelling, at one point warning, “We rise and meet you at your door.” Just a splendid opener, one that is emblazoned on my brain. “Goodbye Gemini” keeps the adrenaline going, proving to be one of the catchiest, most memorable songs this band ever created, and O’Brien’s flute playing and singing keeps you not only engaged but actively participating in the jaunt. Folk ballad “Lord Summerisle” is a true change of pace, not only for the record but for the band itself. Gadke takes over lead vocals, quite capably might I add, O’Brien provides lush, lovely backing, and the track has a classic Moody Blues essence. “Ballad of the Weird Sisters” reminds me of Heart again but also of The Decemberists, not just for the pushy folk rock vibe and active strings but for weaving murderous events into a disarmingly sticky song. Great work.

The title track kicks off sounding like vintage Black Sabbath with its bluesy guitar swagger, doom groove, and more forceful, grittier vocals from O’Brien that you don’t often hear from her. “Drawing Down the Moon” has a poppier disposition at times, though, of course, it’s doused with dread in the form of spooky organs and the guitar work, though the vocals give the song something of a shimmer. “Faunus” is a bouncy, flute-led instrumental that finds the band showing off some of their progressive tendencies, and that leads to our eight-minute epic closer “The Magician,” a song about magician Oliver Haddo from a book of the same name by W. Somerset Maugham. Haddo is a caricature of Aleister Crowley, and the band retells the devious tale of love, betrayal, and the occult, with a pulverizing, exciting doom rock tempo that ends the record on a surging note.

Blood Ceremony have achieved a different level of greatness with “The Eldritch Dark,” and this is an exciting new direction for the band. This record should result in them taking on a great deal of new suitors, and I’m excited to hear how these songs come across live. They made all the right adjustments in their sound, paving the way for what has to be a bright future, even if it’s mired in darkness.

For more on the band, go here:

To buy the album, go here:

For more on the label, go here:

And here: