• The essence of occultism - A review of Dæmonarch's ''Hermeticum''

    Dæmonarch - Hermeticum (1998)

    Dæmonarch was a one-off side-project of four fifths of Portuguese gothic metal legend Moonspell released between the band's regular studio albums ''Sin/Pecado'' and ''The Butterfly Effect' in the late nineties'. While ''Hermeticum'' employs indeed a few diversified orchestral samples and eerie sound effects that could be found on those two Moonspell records, the backbone sound of this release goes back to the band's early years and even beyond when the band was still known as Morbid God. This record basically shows what Moonspell could have become after its critically acclaimed debut ''Wolfheart'' if the band had opted for a heavier instead of a mellower direction. ''Hermeticum'' is an atmospheric yet consistent and always focused gothic metal album with strong black metal influences. 

    If compared to Moonspell's early works, the folk influences and hints at Portuguese culture are almost completely absent and the record revolves essentially around occult lyrics written by Fernando Ribeiro when he was still a teenager and developing an obsession with the dark side of our world. The vocals sound clearly improved if compared to Moonspell's and Morbid God's first outputs. Fernando Ribeiro's harsh vocals are energizing, focused and technically convincing while his early extreme metal vocal efforts sounded often out of breath and arrhythmical as they were simply based on emotions. This time around Fernando Ribeiro doesn't just convince on an emotional but also on a technical level. This here might as well be the best vocal performance of his career. 

    Another trademark of this album are the cold yet powerful riffs and the blistering drum techniques that should please to any fan of underground black metal acts of the late eighties and early nineties. Still, the album doesn't only feature endless high-speed passages but at least as many mid-paced parts and also a few slow-paced bridges, codas and overtures. It's only the overall pace that is faster than what fans of Moonspell might be used to.

    The diverse keyboards, samples, sound and vocal effects add a fittingly eerie and uneasy tone to several tracks of the album without taking too much space. To my positive surprise, these elements never sound artificial as it's the case for many amateurish black metal bands and they really add to the diversified details of this album. 

    The only then-active Moonspell member that didn't participate on this record was drummer Miguel Gaspar and instead of hiring a session musician, the project simply used a drum computer which isn't uncommon for black metal bands. While the absence of a real drummer and the sometimes unspectacular bass guitar add an amateurish charm to this album, the rhythm section is also the only element that can't fully convince on this otherwise very good output that includes nine great to excellent tracks that are best enjoyed as a whole.

    If I had to single out particular tunes, my personal highlights would be ''Corpus Hermeticum'' and ''The Seventh Dæmonarch''. The first track opens with thundering drums and epic orchestrations inspired by mysterious neofolk sounds that build up a fairy atmosphere. The balanced vocals sound low and guttural in certain parts and hoarse and unchained most of the time. The song has many breaks with melancholic guitar solos, a short bass-driven part and calmer passages where the orchestrations take the lead. This is the only song on the album that includes memorable folk influences and a more distinctive bass guitar play. It's also an outstanding tune because every musician can showcase his talent in a balanced way. This quasi-title track is by far the most diversified tune on the album but it still sounds atmospheric, coherent and fluid. The track reminds me of a mixture of earlier outputs of Therion, Septicflesh, Samael, Empyrium and Crematory all at once. If the German gothic metal band The Vision Bleak had an extreme metal vocalist, they could actually sound close to this as well. Dæmonarch had more ideas for this song in less than five minutes than some entire Moonspell records. The latter song is an almost cinematic experience as it opens with sounds of wind and wuthering before epic orchestrations and choirs kick in and build up a horror atmosphere. This song evokes images of a black mess that has something purely natural yet preciously sacral. This profound mixture is garnished with the record's most beautiful and dramatic guitar solo and a slower bridge with spoken word passages and powerful choirs that send shivers down my spine. This song is one of the very best occult songs ever done and takes only the best influences from the dark ambient, black metal, gothic metal and psychedelic rock genres to merge them into something excitingly new.

    If you care for occult music, imagery or art, Dæmonarch's first and only strike is an absolute must-have record even if you have to pay a more elevated price for this unfairly forgotten rarity that even most Moonspell fans don't seem to know. This record really deserves to see its name being spread and getting some more attention after all these years. This album is different enough from other Moonspell albums to deserve its own banner but if you like the usual gothic metal style of this band, you will also appreciate this little masterpiece. This album isn't as great as Moonspell's very best efforts such as ''Wolfheart'' but it's definitely at least on the level of ''Irreligious''. Let's hope that this record will get re-released anytime soon or that Moonspell's members bring this project back to life one day.

    Final verdict: 90%

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