After two solid supernatural/occultic/epic/prog doom masterpieces that’ll steal your soul from the first dirge-y note, comes the third Wounded Kings full length In the Chapel of the Black Hand. Apparently in the last year since The Shadow Over Atlantis, much of the original band went their separate ways to pursue other bands/directions/life responsibilities, but Steve Mills is still at the core of TWK and the haunting British doom songs of the damned continue as strong as ever, if not more so. The only significant change is the addition of the esoteric and beautifully dark female vocals by Sharie Neyland and if anything, the female vocals in TWK style of doom, that trudges through the trenches of the brutal and slow funeral doom pace and moods and epic doom, is probably the most ideal and perfect addition to continue to set them apart from the pack. The feminine priestess vocals are the most convincing aspect to the occult sound and here they sound so real and genuine that the songs go from cinematic to live performance and will honestly convert even the most stubborn over to the side of darkness and truth.
For once, as I’ve been a fan of this band from their start, I had no idea what the Hell was going on with TWK until this dropped in my mailbox and I read the insert. Even listening to it, the female vocals make it even more eerie and occult, but it’s still 100% TWK and that’s incredible to be able to lose an entire line-up and still maintain your distinct sound/feel!!!! I’m hoping this act will continue to develop, maintain their signature, and keep the cult alive and growing. The debut, Embrace the Narrow House, got me hooked instantly driving home in the rain as I gave it it’s first spin. It was so haunting, slow and mystical, but 100% doom and literally stopped my heart beating in it’s heavy and epic colossal riffs and hazy atmospheres, that I had finally found that next special twilight-dusk soundtrack I’d been waiting for.
Not soon after, the band notified me of the upcoming debut on I Hate, The Shadow Over Atlantis. I waited patiently for news from them and one day it was complete and delivered in my mailbox by the label before the band sent it to me. I gave it it’s first listen and although completely flattened and melted onto the floor from the massive atmospheres that even caved in their debut, I crawled up, told the band about it and wrote the review, it was so instantaneous and amazing. Only a little over a year after that one comes their third and strongest creation yet, In the Chapel of the Black Hand.
The opening, “The Cult of Souls”, comes in with dense doom blasts of chords that slowly ring out amongst a hollow cavern filled with Hammond Organ (70’s prog fans rejoice!!) and the seductive incantations of newly inducted high Priestess Sharie Neyland. There’s definitely the right amount of 70’s occult to make fans of Paul Chain, L’Imperro Delle Ombre, Zess, Malombra, Jacula fans quiver with excitement here alongside fans of the dark, heavy, and dismal. It’s a 13+ minute ode to Dionysus, the God of Wine and party, but sounds substantially more like a conjuring of some warlord or keeper of the dead such as Hades or Ares. The organ use is just for effect and atmosphere as the meat of the songs remain somewhere between Evoken density, Italian doom masters, and classic occult rock/prog acts like Coven and Black Widow with some Sabbath, of course. Toward the ending of the song there’s this trippy tribal percussion and almost hypnotic break before the final organ rings in and the guitars blare again. This is the first track and I’m already sweating and foaming at the mouth, this is absolute doom perfection right here. There’s even a chorus of chanting that sounds human and as if it’s coming from the funereal organ as a chorus welcoming you prematurely to the afterlife.
“Gate of Oblivion” comes next and feels as though you are now officially on your journey down some dark and mystical path beneath the Earths surface. The doom chords indoctrinate you into the world of the beyond and beneath, as you slowly wander toward the light in the far distance and the wailing solos to await your fate. The song itself is divided into 3 parts:
- The Descent, as described above
- Dominion (the Priestess wails as you venture toward the Gates)
Dominion begins when the vocals kick in and you wander through the shadows following the cryptic calling you to join the tribe. The Hammond Organ really enhances the feel of the morbid and supernatural as you almost imagine this being the audio version of a classic supernatural horror tale. I first listened to this watching the silent film, Haxan Witchcraft through the Ages, which depicted all the myths and lore of witchcraft from the dark ages through Medieval and modern (1922) times, and nothing could have suited the film better. Beautiful women seducing clergy men through potions, nuns with knives and the devil laughing at them from behind the ritual altar, it all fit so well to this saga of doom.
The Arrival comes through a break in the vocals and main riffs, the organ fills the room and then slowly fades out to analog effect like something cosmic and mystical approaching, and you know you have arrived at the Gate. The epic and melodic doom cascades come back in quickly and the height of intensity in the vocals and atmosphere consume you as your skin freezes from the breath of immortality. I have to say that this final chapter in the trilogy within a song showcases the new vocal talents the most, as she really carries the notes high and steady, drawn out like a classically trained banshee. If that is the sound of an evil sorceress, then may many many more lives be taken and damned through seduction!!!
“Return of the Sorceror” is a brief instrumental, mainly a really groovy 3-minute track that amps up the pace and gets you ready for the climax with a killer solo and a condemning celebration of the newest inductee. The distorted waves of the last chord in the track literally waver and hover about like fumes from a ceremonial pact being closed into oblivion for about a minute until the blast of the final chapter brings you to attention.
“In the Chapel of the Black Hand” is a stellar, close to a perfect album. The guitar work, the angular melodies that wail and wrap around your neck like a satin noose made of incense smoke as you are officially now a part of the secret world beyond. The atmosphere remains very dense and morbid, but there’s less of the build up and more of the final melodic and epic delivery that was only hinted to in prior chapters. You can almost see the gash from taking the blood oath magically disappear on your forearm as the book you signed vanishes in thin air and the priestess chants the final words of welcome and the dead come forth to pay their welcome and respects, mugs of ale in hand and bodies adorned in cloaks and jewels. No wonder to this day people still worry about the seductive allure of the occult, the devil and his patrons never looked or sounded so appealing. I almost want to use this album as a way of educating folks to come over to the alleged dark side, as I’d be willing to burn at the stake for this experience centuries ago as much as today.
If you have not rewarded yourself with the experience of The Wounded Kings and their English occult doom in the past, then you still have a chance to redeem yourself with this third installment of pure epic gloom. The band has never sounded so convincing and this alongside a few other doom releases has me tied in knots for top release this year, and with true doom that’s always a tough call as the talent and passion of the artists always goes above and beyond the past.
You really do NEED this album!!!!