The Foul Year of Our Lord 2012 proved to be a bumper year for British Black Metal with quality releases from the likes of Winterfylleth, Wodensthrone and Nine Covens amongst others. But the pine-scented blasts from the pasts of the Heathen movement aren’t all our fog-shrouded isle has to offer, and those still yearning for the days when Cradle of Filth and Hecate Enthroned spun devilishly diabolical tales of gothic romances over riffs to make your heart soar rather than sink would do well to check out the debut release from Old Corpse Road, a quintet of Northerners more interested in ghoulish tales of witchcraft than a rose-tinted Pagan past that never really existed.
Named after an ancient British method of transporting the bodies of the recently deceased to their eventual resting place, Old Corpse Road may share the same association with the macabre, but certainly move at a faster pace than the travellers who gave them their moniker. Heavily influenced by the first few albums by Cradle of Filth, when Dani shrieked like a scaled cat out of hell, and the gothic desolation of My Dying Bride; “Tis Witching Hour…” is a nostalgic balm to anyone who holds a torch to those glorious early days. It’s not just an exercise in reminiscence however, as the riffs come infused with a deathly bite that give them some needed weight, while the frequent folky interludes remind the listener that here the past is alive and all around us. All of these elements combine to stunning effect on first track proper; the blistering ‘The Cauld Lad of Hylton’ and keep up the good work for the near hour-long running time.
There are times, especially during the twinkling keys and dual-leads of ‘Hag of the Mist’ that you have to pause to wonder if you’ve heard this before, on “Vempire” maybe or “Kings of Chaos”, but the raft of ideas and grasp of evocative, earthen melodies are something new, evoking images of spectre-haunted graveyards rather than pouting vamps. Old Corpse Road want to tell stories, as evidenced by the three-part ‘The Crier of Claiffe’, a bewitching journey through blackened melodies, symphonic bombast and sing-a-long acoustic jauntiness (yes really). The grimly-intoned spoken words of The Wanderer could have gone horribly wrong, but instead they make the tall tales seem alive, carrying on the great British tradition of storytelling through the likes of ‘Isobel – Queen of Scottish Witches’, though what our forefathers would make of the venomous riffs is anyone’s guess.
More interested in the witch of Wookey Hole than the Battle of Maldon, Old Corpse Road nevertheless act as both a reminder of Britain’s knack for slightly eccentric folklore and Black Metal that comes with its own distinct flavour. Combine the two, as others have done before and it’s usually a recipe for success, and there’s enough kvlt unpleasantness on offer here to please the purists, plus the requisite amount of folky elegance of the new school to ensure that Old Corpse Road have many more paths ahead of them.