Cursed Moon’s 10-track Rite of Darkness debut LP opens with tolling churchyard bells and synths, announcing a gloomy atmosphere appropriate for a project that bills itself as a kind of hybrid between the worlds of 80s trad gothic rock and early black metal. Powered by minor-note obsessed guitars, a drum machine, and enough doomy gothic mood to fill a truckload of black hair dye bottles, Rite of Darkness maintains a hypnotically dancey vibe reminiscent of Sisters of Mercy’s Floodland opus, but there are also still enough minor note guitar chord changes and venom in the vocals to keep black metal fans interested. The three cover tracks at the end of the LP – covers of songs by Sisters of Mercy, Oz, and Skinny Puppy, respectively – serve well to show some of the main influences on this effort. The album is a new kind of “crossover,” of that between gothic rock and black metal. (Although there are some precedents for this before, i.e. Sixx and others; see below.)
Overall, Rite of Darkness is just a really fun album. And it’s come out at a good time – just in time for the Halloween season. This thing is dripping with just the right amount of macabre gloom and foggy, graveyard atmosphere to merit repeated listening over the Halloween season (and beyond, if, for you, Halloween season never ends – and this album definitely seems to have in mind those for whom this is the case). It straddles an interesting line between cleanly-produced traditional gothic rock from the 1980s, early minimalist black metal, and deathrock. The use of the drum machine and the neatness of the production even open up the possibility that a few of these tracks could be played by goth DJs in dance clubs: Most of the tracks start off with that perfect combination of bass guitar riff and echoey, stomping drum machine that has instinctively driven goths to dance floors the planet over since the Sisters of Mercy released “Lucretia, My Reflection” in the mid-1980s.
Pioneering US black metal band VON had a deathrock side project named Sixx, and a lot of what Cursed Moon is doing here reminds me of that – except whereas Sixx used baritone, “depressed vampire” vocals, singer Sal Yanez of Cursed Moon mainly sticks to a more gruff, “full of contempt” black metal vocal style. Think Cronos of Venom. This works better on some tracks than on others, where one does, admittedly, long for perhaps the crooning slickness of an Andrew Eldritch — who Yanez bears more than a passing resemblance to in the promo photos for the album. (Add a dash of Glenn Danzig in there, too, actually. See below.)
Check out “Ritual Sacrifice” on this LP, which is a perfect Halloween club dance track. “Nightmares,” the third track, intentionally or not, opens with a carbon copy bass riff from Joy Division’s “They Walked In Line,” but then the guitar and synth come in and steer the song in a much different direction (I thought at first this song was going to be a cover of the Joy Division song but under another title – but, alas, it is its own somber melody). It’s surprising more bands haven’t tread this area, although, admittedly, a few actually have: the aforementioned Sixx, side project of USBM band Von; and some of the post-black metal stuff that was coming out a few years back, where black metal bands had tried incorporating more postpunk aspects into their sound – bands like Hateful Abandon, who I’ve written about on CVLT Nation before, or Lifelover, and some of the “treegaze” shoegaze-y black metal bands like Amesoeurs, in their more postpunky moments. But they didn’t have the clean, Floodland-type sound that Cursed Moon seems to be going for here. There are some Spanish deathrock bands that have attempted what Cursed Moon have here pulled off to great effect – check out, for example, Eyaculacion Post-Mortem’s “Transilvania,” which is a similar drum-machine powered odyssey into the depths of deathrock but with sick, Exorcist-style vocals. And some of Acid Bats’ stuff, as well (“Decadencia”).
“Witches’ Dance” is another track that seems to use a variant on Joy Division’s “Walked In Line” riff, but again takes things in an unexpected direction. One of the fun things about this album is how unapologetically into witches, devil worship, demonolatry, and “Creatures of the Night” it is. The last three tracks are covers of songs by Sisters of Mercy, Oz, and Skinny Puppy. These will no doubt be many folks’ favorite tracks on the LP; and, again, if you’re a dj, these will be the most tempting to slip into club sets. The Sisters cover is executed really well – on it, Sal displays the sort of vocal prowess one might hope to encounter more often on future Cursed Moon tracks – the “depressed vampire” vocal stuff. The Oz cover is also excellent. I’ve had that one on repeat myself for a little while now.
Cursed Moon’s Rite of Darkness is a fun and interesting album. The black metal scene has always been more open to gothic rock than the goth scene has been open to black metal, and more’s the pity. Carpathian Forest’s cover of The Cure’s “A Forest” in the 1990s is a textbook perfect attempt at a black metal band paying tribute to goth, and I feel like that also helped provide a template for what Cursed Moon is trying to do here. While it’s not uncommon to see black metal bands covering songs by bands like Joy Division, Death in June, or Killing Joke, you rarely see postpunk or goth bands welcoming the world of black metal the same way. Cursed Moon have produced a really good hybrid album between those two worlds – between postpunk/goth and black metal – and it just might change that.
Cursed Moon’s Rite of Darkness comes out October 27, 2017 on Hell’s Headbangers. There is a Bandcamp page for the release here.