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Album Review: BLOOD CEREMONY The Eldritch Dark

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The adjective "eldritch" has been getting thrown around a lot lately in the metal community, particularly on Facebook and Twitter status updates, so much so that it's almost becoming shorthand for a style of bluesy, Jethro Tull-influenced 70's rock that has re-emerged  in the last few years as "occult rock", adding to the agrestic predilections of those 70's hard folk forebears a sinister obsession with black magic (often in a playful, half-serious sense).

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Blood Ceremony is one of the more long-in-the-tooth entries in this retro-modernist canon, The Eldritch Dark marking no less than their third album since 2008. Frontwoman Alia O'Brien is capable if somewhat unexceptional as a singer, but adds plenty of value to the band with her triple threat flautist/organist roles as well. The flute alone might evoke the Tull comparisons, but Blood Ceremony guitarist Sean Kennedy has clearly learned a lick or two out of the Martin Barre songbook as well.

"Lord Summerisle" jettisons any semblance of hard rock or metal altogether, being instead a 3.5-minute straight folk rock duet between O'Brien and the dominant baritone of bassist Lucas Gadke. "Ballad of the Weird Sisters" adds spare violin and spotlight-worthy flute to an epic yarn in a similar vein to what likeminded Swedes Witchcraft are up to these days. O'Brien's most concentrated dose of organ workout is found on the album's title track, the opening riff straight out of the Jon Lord/Keith Emerson school of rock.

All of these elements were present on 2011's Living With the Ancients, but by dialing back the distortion on the guitars the band have not only given the other instruments more room to breathe but also forced themselves to diversify their songwriting. Tones and gestures that were previously minor flourishes now dominate the material for the better. Bands that are just now deciding to try their hand at this whole "occult rock" thing would do well to glance at Blood Ceremony's creative arc, and only then decide whether they bring the appropriate tools to the table or if they're destined to be passengers on an increasingly overcrowded bandwagon.


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