Flames lick the walls of the Tower beneath a dishwater sky, as fork-wielding peasants disembowel a bishop. Heads flail on pikes – a typical Wednesday in the capital. But if you peer in close, as though seeking the banded finery of Where’s Wally, you will instead locate a grin beneath a pair of jet-black Wayfarers. It is, of course, the charming visage of Dane Cross, mastermind trollster behind Sacred Son, back with another ‘revolting’ slice of British black metal. It’s a slicker, more atmospheric offering than 2017’s debut and 2019’s Arthurian Catacombs, ditching rawness for layered medieval tomfoolery.
Mitchell Nolte’s stunning cover art depicts a snapshot of the carnage from the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, the historical concept behind this release, and it’s worth taking a moment to consider the historical adaptability of the black metal genre and its ability to depict trauma through a hellish lens. In recent years, various British projects have depicted rich historical concepts; take, for instance, 2020’s outstanding Negotium Crucis by The Infernal Sea, which catalogues the misdeeds of the Knight’s Templar.
The subject matter of this release reinforces the vocally left-wing stance of the band, and in interviews, Cross’s politics can appear naïve – in one, he likens modern ‘living conditions’ to those of the 14th Century. Indeed, their press release bemoans the ‘toxic’ present, and touts this album as ‘an ode to righteous left-wing political violence.’ Thankfully, such undergrad-isms don’t blemish the lyrical content here, which emerges as a grisly, head-piking triumph and never feels didactic – they even suggest an ounce of compassion for the green King Richard II: ‘These were sights ghastly to a king of fourteen’. Each track is a well-researched narrative, weaving an engaging, nuanced tapestry that makes fascinating reading on its own.
the atmosphere hits you like a medieval sewer…
Musically, the atmosphere hits you like a medieval sewer. In opening soundscape Pestilence bells are rung, soil is tilled; there’s a cough or two, paying lip service to recent events. This gives way to the titular track, and in my opinion, the highlight of the record. It opens with a triumphant motif, creeping slowly into life before plunging into a steady, double-kick passage. The vocals are guttural, but there’s a lightness to the sound. Cymbals shimmer and reverb shines through the gloom. Sacred Son may be ideologically at odds with the romantic patriotism of Winterfylleth, but there are similarities in the way they skirt the dismal and uplifting in typically English fashion. The use of organ is subtle and brilliant, upping the dramatic medievalism. After an unexpected, but welcome, d-beat diversion it crumbles amidst the clatter of horse hooves and reverb. Distorted, piano-backed whispers allude to the gothic before the wily beast shudders back to life. Should England die, rot in a tomb and somehow resurrect itself, I feel it ought to sound like this.
Single Le Blakheth is another scorcher with more searing organ used to good effect, and The Boy King is blistering once it finally creaks into life. Unfortunately, tracks can outstay their welcome somewhat, occasionally losing direction and impetus. Even the splendid title track is guilty of this, and the lolling tail of Le Blakheth and the piano-led opening of The Boy King make for a rather saggy (if doomy) middle – not to mention the death throes of otherwise brilliant Vengeance I & II, which begins as a campfire folk ballad, evolves into a hellish, fret-sliding rage, but then sticks around for that little bit too long. At points, drama begins to feel a tad like filler. Also, for all the layered instrumentation, there’s an absence of individual musicianship: I found myself yearning for a solo – something to break the atmosphere.
Despite moments of genuine brilliance, it’s not quite on a par with say Fen’s The Dead Light – similarly atmospheric but arguably a more comprehensive UK releases. Still, it’s a thematically rich album that captures a vivid sense of time and place. There’s something about it that gets under your skin, and I nudged it up from a 3.5 to a 4 out of 5 after a tenth listen or so. It’s infectious, a grower not a shower, and the lyrics alone will keep the historically minded chunnering at their keyboards with the fervent energy of an insubordinate peasant.
Scribed by: Fossil