Henbane does not reinvent the torpid wheel of blasphemy. I can't say I'm surprised or really disappointed by this. Henbane is far from boring though, and it provides a fulfilling take on a popular thematic in the general metal microcosm. Metal has always been obsessed with linking human nature to the natural elements. Occult ritualism, retro-themed witchery, and shamanistic endeavors have all been popular themes in metal throughout it's beleaguered existence. Recently occult rock acts Jess and the Ancient Ones and ilk have been paying homage to this in a sort of B-grade '70s horror film way. Cults, witches, and natural rituals are all prevalent lyric and songwriting themes with the occasional folk interlude or rhythm being used to justify the aesthetic.
Luckily Cultes Des Ghoules aren't doing any milking. The aforementioned paragraph only applies to the latter half of the Henbane where the lyrics and music take a stylistic change. "Festival Of Devotion" and "Vintage Black Magic" (appropriately titled) are full of prototypical nature-magick lyricism. "Bat's blood and tongue of dog / sting of snake and eyes of frog / juice of hemlock and silverweed / opium, mandrake and henbane's seed / foreskin of birth-killed babe / hell-broth tastes like Satan's grape / black cat's wool and lizard scales, how sweetly the cauldron exhales" Unlike many of the recent occult rock acts Cultes Des Ghoules' music is sinister enough to pull the silly theme off. By comparison the first two tracks on the album, "Idylls of the Chosen Damned" and "The Passion of a Sorceress" are far more direct in their approach. This isn't a bad thing and while each track is pretty long, they do a good job of keeping you engaged. I definitely approve of the slower riffing on "The Passion" after the more predictable opener.
Henbane is surprisingly heavy for what is essentially a black metal release. The bass is audible in the mix and the kick drums sound nice. The vocalwork by Mark of the Devil is fantastic and varied throughout the entirety of Henbane. He cycles through high-pitched black metal rasping, harsh but intelligible mid-range growls, occasional screaming, and on "Vintage Black Magic," laughter. While the musicianship is pretty much archetypal during the more black metal moments ("Idylls"), Mark of the Devil's vocalwork keeps it compelling and interesting.
Now that I'm listening to Henbane while writing this, I realize that there really aren't too many high-tempo moments on the album other than the opener. After the brief blasting section at the beginning of "The Devil Intimate," it only ramps up to a mid-paced blast section towards the end. I definitely like Cultes Des Ghoules slower style of playing - it sets them apart from similar acts even if their slower sections are essentially leisurely black metal riffs.
8.25 out of 10
1. Idylls of the Chosen Damned
2. The Passion of a Sorceress
3. Vintage Black Magic
4. Festival of Devotion
5. The Devil Intimate