The third album from Greek black metallers Heretic Cult Redeemer. Their self-titled debut album was unleashed 10 years ago, and although Deathspell Omega-styled dissonant riffs have been a hallmark of their Black Metal since the beginning – oh, yes, especially those high pitched climactic dissonant peaks at the end of the riff, – they have made impressive progress between now and then. In terms of sophistication of riffs, ‘Flagellum Universalis’ surpasses ‘Kelevsma’ (2018) in the same way as ‘Kelevsma’ surpassed ‘Heretic Cult Redeemer’ (2013) in its time. ‘Flagellum Universalis’ is an almost continuous frenzied riff attack: after some strange riff Heretic Cult Redeemer immediately offer another, no less strange one. For a certainty, their peculiar music is far from the canons of orthodox Black Metal.
Actually, the Scandinavian old school Black Metal influence was heard only on ‘Heretic Cult Redeemer’, in its turn ‘Kelevsma’ was almost completely filled with modern Greek Black Metal (Acherontas, Thy Darkened Shade, etc.), it was on that album that the modern style of vocals was established, i. e. the vocalist is declaiming and shouting more than singing, you know, a kind of Behemoth-esque manner. In addition, the debut could not boast of frequent use of blast beat drumming, on the contrary, groovy mid-tempo riffs in the spirit of Khold/Tulus and, perhaps, Satyricon, dominated ‘Heretic Cult Redeemer’. ‘Kelevsma’ was also mainly a mid-tempo atmospheric work, though not to the same degree as the debut.
In contrast to them, ‘Flagellum Universalis’ constantly erects blast-beat walls along its entire duration. In the very first song Heretic Cult Redeemer bring down blasting rampage on us and regale with it very often. Groovy elements, of course, remained (take ‘Intoxication Divine’, for example), but – cripes! – now they are often replaced by almost doom metal-ish sections.
But as mentioned above, the biggest change has been in the way the riffs are written. They have become much more complex and sophisticated, sometimes there are even touches of Abigor (‘Intoxication Divine’, ‘Lapsit Exillis’). Both guitars often play completely different parts, elaborate and, of course, dissonant – this is best heard at the beginning of the third ‘Ascending Perfection’. Definitely, Heretic Cult Redeemer did their best, matching guitar parts to each other. And what certainly has never been present in their music before is the Progressive elements – a really strong modern Enslaved vibe is felt from the very first song.
All this is very good. This is wonderful. The problem is that although each riff is certainly very interesting on its own, they are glued together somehow randomly – well, we are not talking about abrupt and all the more clumsy transitions, no, the ‘Flagellum Universalis’ plot is quite smooth. However, there is no natural integrity in the songs, in this sense ‘Kelevsma’ was more solid and monolithic, even though it was not so hyper-sophisticated.
To be honest, when you listen to ‘Flagellum Universalis’, you remember “the cut-up technique”, i. e. a literary technique in which the original already finished text is cut up and the resulting fragments are rearranged in random order, in particular, William S. Burroughs actively used this method (but by no means invented it). The fifth ‘The Woven Chords of Ecstasy’ is especially revealing in this sense.
Or, continuing the literary analogy, each song on ‘Flagellum Universalis’ is not a separate story told by one person, but a kind of chat in which each interlocutor tells his own story. And although they do it quite politely, do not interrupt each other, the main task of each of them is still his own story. For example, a piercing dissonant riff is repeated many times in the finale of the second ‘Intoxication Divine’, but how it got here, what prepared it, why it is needed – none of this is clear. Well, as compensation the song’s ending is really touching.
It is even more depressing that almost all the songs are built according to the same scenario/recipe: a bit of pure Dissonant Black Metal completely in the spirit of Deathspell Omega (actually there are a lot of dissonances on the album, they sound almost constantly), a bit of Progressive Metal (camouflaged sometimes), a lot of blast beat battering, a bit of almost doom metal-ish groovyness and so on. As a result, we have a paradox: with all the variety of riffs, it is almost impossible to single out the best song.
If only the sixth ‘Grave Sophia – Breath of the Night’ stands out: it starts off with a very beautiful melodic riff supported either by a synth or by a chant, the music really makes an impression. But then the song develops according to the pattern of other pieces. Somewhere in the middle you can hear another deviation from the pattern, here an almost thrash metal-ish palm-muted riff sounds, supported by a tremolo picking melody line.
There was also a Thrash Metal palm muting chug in the finale of the second ‘Desert of Revelation’ on ‘Kelevsma’ and, in fact, ‘Grave Sophia…’ reminds of the best ‘Kelevsma’ excerpts, where we could hear strange melodies, several songs contained a really touching solo of this kind. Now Heretic Cult Redeemer, unfortunately, have abandoned this element of their music. The finale of ‘Grave Sophia…’, which recycles an opening riff enhanced by a vocal part this time – again, a very touching finale, – is spoiled by an abrupt intense high pitched tom drum fill, probably triggered. This technique is also used in other songs (‘Intoxication Divine’, ‘Lapsit Exillis’), and we must say that this is not the most useful innovation. This element of drumming really stands out in the general mix, but it’s by no means the adornment of the song.
In its turn the most interesting element in the seventh ‘Eye of the Saturnian Dawn’ is stand-alone tremolo picking with atonal drop in pitch. One of the sections of this song is an Ambient piece, which includes some Mid-Eastern tinged melody. Well, it was a very good idea in the sense that this melodic line is the only one of its kind on ‘Flagellum Universalis’, while the Middle Eastern singing samples were used too much on ‘Kelevsma’ and when listening to them, they acted like a poison to your ears. Seriously.
Summary. ‘Flagellum Universalis’ is extremely interesting to listen to, but in pursuit of the sophistication of their music, Heretic Cult Redeemer forgot about the music itself. Maybe the album should have been shorter in order not to lose the plot thread in all these frills and repetitive patterns. Perhaps the last two songs ‘Primeval Cognition I & II’ could not have been included in the album. But, we repeat, if you crave unimaginable diversity, then this music is exactly for you.