There are some albums you can just play in the background whilst undertaking menial household tasks, records you can just tune in and drop out to that require little attention to appreciate. “Blood Vaults…” by the one-man German band The Ruins of Beverast is no such record. It is an 80 minute descent into the exploits of a fifteenth century exorcist and witch hunter via the medium of coruscating black metal and devastatingly bleak doom/death. An endurance test in more ways than one. It’s fair to say that Black Veil Brides fans need not apply.
The vision of one Alexander von Meilenwald, The Ruins of Beverast have released three previous albums of blackened art, all of them lengthy, challenging and devastating. “Blood Vaults…” continues this inexorable march into the abyss with all the ingredients that those in the know have come to expect from von Meilenwald. Playing every instrument himself, this could easily be denounced as an overlong vanity project, but such is the scope of the nightmare captured here that the gauntlet is laid down with scorn. Few bands are brave enough to ever attempt something as brave and off-the-wall as The Ruins of Beverast modus operandi. They just simply aren’t quite mad enough.
Armed with an utterly devastating guitar tone that propels the searing, mid-paced black metal of ‘Daemon’ into ancient, bestial territories, we are at the mercy of von Meilenwald and his deft handling of genre dynamics throughout. Unafraid to blast at pace or slow things down to a tortuous crawl as he does on ‘Malefica’ with its echoing, sorrow-leaden chords, the conductor wants us to experience everything and expect nothing. Emotions are wrought, attentions are tested and the only option is to try and see this through to the bitter end.
Everything about “Blood Vaults…” is cloaked in an almost tangible aura of medieval darkness where paranoia and rampant religious fundamentalism reigned supreme. The lyrics, written in both Latin and English, are an account of Kramer, the inquisitor and his aesthetic approach to demonic possession. “Clandestine is the art of the daemon” he proclaims. Exorcisms in this period of history often took months at a time and resulted in the death of the recipient (from undiagnosed mental illness, malnutrition and torture rather than evil spirits) and it’s this claustrophobic and superstitious atmosphere of evil masquerading as good that von Meilenwald has immersed us in, with scant chance of escape.
Other instruments and musical passages that one would not expect from a black metal record are used to implement this effect. Through the liberal use of choral synths and chanting choirs, we are there in a medieval monastery at the mercy of its inhabitants. Little is done to alleviate the distress as the building repetition of ‘Spires, the Wailing City’ builds to an excruciating climax while the lurching unease of ‘A Failed Exorcism’ delights in pulling the rug out from underneath us by throwing in a tribal drum section, as if the feeling that we weren’t already involved in an archaic ritual wasn’t enough to unnerve us, although the scalding black metal guitar lines that come after are just as unpleasant.
In case you hadn’t already guessed, this isn’t music for everyone. Very few will get this or be able to withstand its onslaught and feelings it inspires. The heavy effects on von Meilenwald’s accented vocals take some getting used to, as is the daunting length and subject matter described. But The Ruins of Beverast are an obsession, a secret that those in the know hold close to their chests and are reluctant to discuss with outsiders. “Blood Vaults…” will not change this and nor should it. But if you want to join von Meilenwald on his abyssal journey, this is a good place to start.