BLOOD CEREMONY's third album, 2013's "The Eldritch Dark", arrives in the midst of a historically busy time for parent label, Rise Above, which is obviously counting on its partnership with America's mighty Metal Blade to help juggle virtually simultaneously released new efforts from CATHEDRAL, CHURCH OF MISERY, UNCLE ACID & THE DEADBEATS and the suspiciously similar PURSON.Wow! Fortunately, the Canadian quartet has already fared quite well when left to their own devices over the course of a highly respected, but far from celebrated career, so there's nothing radically different about "The Eldritch Dark" that threatens to upset their poisoned applecart now. In fact, opening statement "Witchwood" alone comprehensively covers every element of the BLOOD CEREMONY template revealed on albums past: gothic tales, proto-doom and proggy experiments enlivened by the perky flute, nimble organ and haunted vocals of Alia O'Brien - the band's major difference-maker and ultimate raison d'etre. Let's be honest, without her, BLOOD CEREMONY would have little chance of standing out, as evidenced by abundantly competent but never transcendent guitar-dominated efforts such as the title cut and "Drawing Down the Moon" (indeed, in a live setting guitarist Sean Kennedy and his chums are anything but "charisma city"). Even the prospective single, "Goodbye Gemini", while effectively harnessing these elements to more concise arrangements for maximum immediacy, plus heightened psychedelics, isn't anywhere near irresistible enough to blaze a fiery trail right up to the top of the Ninth Circle's occult rock charts (the sophomore LP's memorable, "Demon Brother", is as close as BLOOD CEREMONY has come to achieving that feat thus far.) But then, backing up O'Brien's respectable charisma and versatile talents is obviously these Canadians' greatest strength, and to that end, the aptly named "Ballad of the Weird Sisters" sees the quartet borrowing a folky fiddle; "Faunus" condenses the JETHRO TULL aesthetic into a fat-free medieval metal interlude; and "Lord Summerisle" sees O'Brien ceding lead vocals to bassist Luke Gadke for a largely acoustic, pagan folk hymn whisking listeners away to Wicker Man island, there to be greeted by eerie string sections. By way of closing, the band goes back to the start by weaving every weapon in their arsenal into eight-minute showcase, "The Magician", featuring a particularly sinister guitar lick, melancholy strums and church organs to soundtrack O'Brien's evocative fantasies. These qualities once again remind us that BLOOD CEREMONY's career prospects fully depend on the young woman's unique set of capabilities, but then most occult bands can't even fall back on that! And there's little doubt that in "The Eldritch Dark", the Toronto quartet have conjured up the most eclectic and mature LP of their career - here's hoping discerning retro-metal fans take note.
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