Style: Black Metal
Release Date: 17 Mar 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | YouTube
I may well be out of date with my knowledge, but I seem to remember from the Buena Vista Social Club movie that all musicians in Cuba are employed by the government. If that's still the case, it's wicked that Conspirator, the man behind Skjuld, ought to count because he sings and plays black metal, hardly the sort of music we expect from the land of Fidel. I have no idea what sort of audience he gets but all power to him for doing this to begin with and doing it for long enough to put out three albums.
Conspirator does everything on this album and it's so well produced that we can hear all of it. The wall of sound here comes from the guitars, which are right up there with the vocals in the mix. The drums are a little buried and are sometimes slower, which is intriguing, but they know exactly how to ramp up the pace when needed, such as on Under the Serpent's Banner, which truly blisters. Whatever speed they are, I should add that they're always urgent.
I liked this from the outset, with the Black Sabbath touches that kick off Lawless God, but it gets better and better. The Sight is an impressive demonstration of how black metal doesn't have to blister to carry power and weight. Here, the drums actually outpace the slower guitar for the first half, which is just as evocatively evil and paints just as much of the soundscape Conspirator is conjuring up. That goes triple for The Way Back to the Source, which is a sheer delight of an instrumental. I adore that guitar tone.
The Fall is an interlude that leads us into A Star Down Below, my other easy favourite here. It has a huge sound and it maintains a fantastic old school groove. Midway through, it almost turns into a black metal version of Agent Steel, translating the speed metal blitzkrieg of 144,000 Gone into a wildly different style. It takes its time getting there, though, building up to it magnificently. Sacred Flames follows up with more galloping speed metal with a black metal overlay. It's elevated by a second vocal at points.
That just leaves the title track, which really didn't the suffix of (Ritual) because it's clearly a ritual piece even before the chants begin, taking me back to the seventies and the shenanigans of bands like Atomic Rooster and Black Widow. The music behind them is slow, heavy and hypnotic and, in other hands with a different guitar tone, this song could be doom metal. Again, it plays as a duet, with evil vocals countering the hopeful chant, and that's a glorious way to do this.
What I've been finding lately with a lot of one man bands is that the people behind them are multitalented but often better at one thing. They may be the bees knees on guitar but their vocals are more average, or vice versa. Here, I could see Conspirator being just a vocalist or just a guitarist and being worthy of praise even restricted to one role. Hilariously, it seems that he mostly plays bass, performing in that vein for Dawn of Madness, Heretik, the Chaos Nether Silence, Darkening and presumably others.
If that isn't enough to keep him busy, I should remind that he plays every part here and also does everything for Shrine ov Absurd, who knocked out an album somewhere in between the three he's done as Skjult. Clearly there's a black metal underground scene in Havana and, if it all sounds like this, I'm eager to seek out more.