Review – SwampCult: The Festival

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  • Bio: "Waterland, a region in the Netherlands where in ancient times, even before Roman occupation, everything was swamp. [...] It is from this very region that SWAMPCULT spreads its message of sheer terror across the globe like a festering disease." - Facebook
  • Label: Transcending Obscurity Records
  • Release Date: October 2nd, 2016
  • Genre: Black Metal, Doom Metal
  • Website: Visit Website
  • Rating (out of 10):

SwampCult is a two member black/doom metal group from The Netherlands mostly known in the underground for one thing: Their worship of writer H.P. Lovecraft and the mythos of the ancient ones. It didn’t take long after forming in 2013 for those in the know to become acquainted with their fascination thanks to a demo tape later that year, as well as the release of their limited run debut full-length An Idol Carved of Flesh in 2014 through Eastern Voice Production. Fast forward to 2016 and we’re approaching this holiday season with another bout of literary horror turned metal with their retelling of The Festival, yet another small-run recording through Transcending Obscurity Records. But is this the one to make the duo stand out among the many Lovecratian inspired acts, or is it better left at the shores of R’lyeh?

Have you ever wanted to hear the cheaply made background metal music that often accompanied a scene or two in an eighties horror film clearly made on the fly in a studio somewhere for the sake of not having to pay out royalties? Well, that’s kind of how this effort starts out. “Chapter I – The Village” showcases that two-man act sound quite well, pulling the bass forward with a slower, ritualistic vibe and heavy echo on the vocals, all leaving a pretty barren final product even when the drums are at their most complex about four minutes in. It isn’t until the performance jumps into the short-lived traditional trudging doom metal approach that the emptiness starts to work in favor of the song and its mystical backdrop. Given the obvious H.P. Lovecraft inspiration and fact that this is the band’s own interpretation/reading of his tale “The Festival” [one of his stories I admittedly have yet to read] this cold, cathartic backdrop is quite suiting, though not that engaging. Thankfully it does begin to pay off shortly after this opening chapter.

“Chapter III – Al-Azif Necronom” immediately embraces the listener like a warm robe as the occult inspired ritualistic rhythms trudge onward. While the group’s foundation is a mixture of black and doom metal, the sludgy guitar distortions and slightly raw audio quality make it feel like you’re witnessing a successful ceremony deep in the woods that closes with the gargling of an awakened behemoth. “Chapter VII – The Dawning” isn’t always as tense an experience, but additional vocal effects as the pace wanes, such as just past two minutes in, manages to make up for it while also breaking up some of the monotony. Meanwhile “Chapter IV – Procession” shows off some early Judas Priest NWOBHM influence to the hooks and drumming mingled with bouts of cryptic darkness and additional creeping unease come three minutes in that even King Diamond would be proud of, and “Chapter V – The Rite” ends up more like a fever dream than anything between its bouts of story telling and atmospheric passages that allow the music the opportunity to tell the tale for a change.

SwampCultWhile this is an actual metal album complete with music, that aspect is often a secondary one. At its core, The Festival is more like an audio book, but instead of simple narration and ambient effects we’re given a genuine full-length recording that takes advantage of music as more of a gateway between moments in time, events, and chapters within the aural tale of terror being fleshed out by the man known simply as A. The atmosphere is often fleshed out well enough with a suiting raspy or gristled harmonization approach to match the mood being outlined musically, not to mention a number of seamless transitions between chapters the deeper in you get. The problem is that, most of the time, there really isn’t much of a bite to it, even when paying close enough attention to the lyrics and overall story. There’s little memorable than a few tracks here and there and the reflections of something best suited to laying in bed and relaxing with when your eye lids are too tired or lazy to stay open and read something from the nearby book shelf or e-reader.

None of that is to say this is a bad release, though. If anything, it’s a respectable one for doing something a little different with the works and ideas of H.P. Lovecraft. This approach is what you would expect when someone tells you an audio recording of the Cthulhu mythos exists, unlike many who simply read the tale and hire an ambient performer to write something based on the chosen work that doesn’t always work with the tone of voice used at the very least. Outside those few stand out tracks, The Festival itself is a bit hard to sit through sometimes, even for the most seasoned fans of the inspiration’s works.

SwampCultDigital review copy of this release provided by Transcending Obscurity PR.