It's been a while since Lord Belial have released an album, mostly because they went on indefinite hiatus in 2009 when drummer Micke Backelin was suffering from severe tinnitus. After at least one gig in 2014 and an announced tour for the COVID years that I presume didn't happen, they're back for sure with this album, their ninth thus far and their first in fourteen years. Given how blistering the opening track, Legion, happens to be, I think the Swedish black metal pioneers may be a little happy about their return.
That they remain frantic for much of the album shouldn't be much of a surprise to anyone. Micke's drumming is pinpoint stuff and, for a while, it's not particularly varied, content to just hammer an incessant beat at ludicrous speed. Legion and On a Throne of Souls are powerful tracks, but really ones to get us in the mood and underline the fact Lord Belial and indeed Micke Backelin are back. I did wonder for a while if we'd hear anything else, because what might work fine for a three and a half minute opener, or indeed the first couple of songs, isn't going to work for a fifty minute album.
Rapture of Belial, which I guess is the title track, is where it starts to vary. It's very fast at points, I should point out, but it varies the tempo frequently, often getting surprisingly slow, even shifting the beat a couple of times from Micke's drums to what I presume is the sound of an anvil being hit by a large hammer. I was a little panicky before this song, but it opened up wonderfully from here, almost like the openers were a solid and reliable stem to a flower and we work upwards to find the rest of the album the vibrant petals. A predominantly black flower, of course, and one inexplicably decorated by blood spatter, but you get the point.
I realise that I've now mentioned Micke four times thus far but nobody else at all, though the first was inevitable. The others are because he's rather high in the mix and he's so incessant over those first couple of tracks that it's a little hard to focus on the rest of the band. Well, that's his brother Thomas's voice fighting for attention and it's a neatly evil black metal voice without going full-on goblin shriek. Thomas also plays guitar, as does Niclas Pepa Green, meaning that there are three of the four founder members in place, only Anders Backelin, cousin to Micke and Thomas, missing on bass. All three members pick up that slack, but I wonder why he didn't join them this time.
To be fair, they do it well, not that it's particularly noticeable in the mix. It's certainly there on the quieter moments in Belie All Gods, where it shines in comparison to the routine death growl that's suddenly a counter to Thomas's black shriek. It's there as Evil Incarnate kicks on with slow but firm intent. This one ramps up, of course, but varies its tempo throughout and is likely to be my pick for standout track. There's a fight on for that slot though and oddly, the majority of candidates are in the second half of the album, which ironically it begins.
There's a grand epic feel to this half, with slower sections rampaging onwards and faster ones that elevate the mood. It often feels like early Dark Tranquility in its sweep but with all its rough edges smoothed off and the tone translated from melodic death to black metal, through the vocals, the impenetrable guitars and the faster drum sections. There are some fantastic delicacies within the layers of sound in Lux Luciferi and the melody of Infinite Darkness and Death ends up accentuated by what sounds like a harpsichord. The intro to this one is blissful too. Alpha and Omega does a lot of these things but with an even better guitar solo. Lamentations gets seriously choral.
Yes, this second half shines. It swells with emotional weight but dances with elegance. As ruthless the opening tracks were, I much prefer the slower, more nuanced tracks of the second half and I'm hooked all over again on each repeat listen. Raw purists may worship Legion, but this album kicks off for me with Rapture of Belial and really gets going with Evil Incarnate. From that point, it's an excellent album indeed.