Blood Ceremony’s cauldron of vintage evil and ritual wonder spills over on ‘Lord of Misrule’

Ester SegarraWhen a sound grows in popularity and everyone, it seems, catches on and tries their hand at it, the backlash is inevitable. So, too, is the saturation level. But that doesn’t mean there is no merit to a particular sound. It’s just that you might have to sort out the mediocre from the very good, a worthy endeavor if you have the time or interest.

Yes, the occult and vintage path is so heavily trudged now that the grass is dead, and every new person who happens upon the area brings mud into the house. My inbox is littered with these bands, but when I see the words Blood Ceremony in a subject line, I push everything aside to hear what concoctions they’ve dreamt up this time. See, this Toronto-based band has been at it long before the recent wave of newcomers trying to feed off a sound. Over the course of four records, Blood Ceremony have mastered the art of creating music that certainly sounds decades old but always is genuine and thought-provoking. The themes of ritual, bizarre religious history, the devil, evil, and more are wrapped into their alluring music, and on their excellent fourth record “Lord of Misrule,” they bury themselves even more in shadows of the past that have come to roost in the present. In fact, ever since this music arrived, I’ve visited over and over again, constantly infected by their playing and the lore contained within.

Blood Ceremony coverBlood Ceremony have been with us for a decade now, and their first record landed in 2008 with their stunning self-titled debut. From there, they’ve returned with regularity, always upping the ante. “Living With the Ancients” arrived in 2011 (“The Great God Pan” often plays on loop in my brain), with their great third record “The Eldritch Dark” turning up in 2013. That record was their most accessible to date, one that seemed to hint they were heading down a path where their material would grow more encompassing to a wider audience. Yet “Lord of Misrule” is a curveball, an album that might have sounded just right in sound following their debut. The band–vocalist/keyboardist/flautist Alia O’Brien, guitarist Sean Kennedy, bassist Lucas Gade, drummer Michael Carrillo–seemed to dust off the oldest texts they could find to draw their fans even deeper into the crypt and their dark, alluring magic. It’s a great sounding album, and it’s one that, with each visit, opens itself up more and draws you right into its heart.

The record starts with the longest cut “The Devil’s Widow,” a track that is ominous at its start, and then it begins punching away. O’Brien’s flute flutters away, and her singing sounds raspier than usual, which occurs often on this record. The simple chorus is one that makes callbacks easier and natural and sticks right in your brain. Really great start. “Loreley” starts with keys pumping, deeper vocals, and a chorus that delves into folk territory. Soft keys trickle in and mesmerize, while warm soloing heats up the song and keeps it bruising to its finish. “The Rogue’s Lot” is a strong one, with doom striking leading the way, and a fuzzy, middle-paced path, with O’Brien wondering, “How do the living raise the dead?” This song has one of the two best choruses on the record, with the call of, “It’s the time and it’s the weather,” hammering home the urgency. The song kicks up dust at the end, with the flute flying and the chorus delivered ever faster. The title track owns the other great chorus, with O’Brien warning, “It’s four o’clock!” and setting the stage for the oncoming darkness and the beasts contained within. The track is burly, really infectious, and bathes in a psychedelic bath in its waning moments.

“Half Moon Street” has a country rock swing to it at the start, something that adeptly sets up this dusty rocker that, once again, should have no problem grabbing your attention and keeping it. The second half of the song hits a new gear, with the guitar playing ruling and the flutes swelling up again. “The Weird of Finistere” is a moody ballad, with O’Brien weaving the tale, noticing, “It’s shadow, my own.” She simply sings the title over and over on the chorus, an easy but effective method, and one draped in emotion. “Flower Phantoms” is like no Blood Ceremony song before it, and possibly after it. It bursts with ’60s girl group power, feeling psychedelically overflowing, a little poppy, and later is totally scorched by the guitar work. This is a really cool diversion to somewhere else, and Blood Ceremony nail it. “Old Fires” lets riffs chug, fiery vocals echo, and some killer doom stomping do its damage and reassert the band’s power. There is something of a Deep Purple edge to this as well, with the soloing and keyboards absolutely burning up. Closer “Things Present, Things Past” is a closing ballad that has all the makings of a 1970s English folk song with its lush acoustics and hazy vocals. Parts of the song seem purposely woozy, which is a nice touch, and as the song progresses, it continues to warp. The final moments lead into a dark tunnel, with the sounds fading, only to come out of the other side and finally dissolve.

Blood Ceremony’s reign has been a fun, intoxicating one, and they leave us guessing with each release. “Lord of Misrule” may stymie anyone who just came on board for “Eldritch,” but for those of us with them since the start, it’s a really satisfying turn even further into black shadows. Their kingdom may be flooded with followers trying to do the same things, but Blood Ceremony remain the rulers, the darkest, most interesting band going that feeds off the vintage feast of evil.

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