Darkenhöld – Castellum

Any metal that dares make it obvious it references anything of the ‘medieval’ has entered dangerous territory.  It’s a minefield full of active explosives every two inches and you happen to be going through it with a pogo stick.  So many times before, as we’ve seen, any reference to swords and sorcery, especially fantasy, have just turned out terribly wrong.  If medieval be thy choice, knave, thou must followeth the rules.  Hear ye, hear ye, the rules be thus, thou shallt not reference fantasy since this smelleth terribly of soured milk.  Further, thou shallt not relith too much on ye keyboards lest ye sound like a troupe of fools.  That’s enough of that.  Medieval metal has never really caught our attention, that is until now, for the simple reason that the whole ‘medieval’ thing has been nearly ruined by many a nerd, geek, and dorkwad who gets caught up in Monty Python quotes while LARPing with their sister and pretending it’s okay, because “we’re not that related.”  So is it possible to wrest the goodness of such things from the potato-chip laced hands of many a table-top gamer?  It is, with the power of Darkenhöld before you.  These French fellow surprised us, for though they have the cultural history to back up their image, directly stating you wish to create “more authentic middle age [sic] black metal” sets you up for a horde of criticism before anyone even pops in the album.  But Castellum will surprise you on a number of levels.  It has some minor faults, but these guys are well on the way to knighting themselves above the status of mere squires of medieval black metal, they are set to be crowned if they listen to the peasants (hint, that’s us).


Castellum does it all with the imagery, too.  Right in the press release they say it clearly if the cover doesn’t for you, since they’re “immersed in ancient times when castles and legendary strongholds proudly stood to proclaim their majesty.”  Big words, ye men, but can you back that up?  Here’s what we expect: the core structures of black metal, that being speed, shrieking vocals, rumbling drums, and consistent guitars that occasionally dip into tremolo, because that’s how it works.  The medieval part, now, that’s tricky, because really the only music from that time period was based on minstrels and heroic poetry.  Most often, pulling that off in metal leads nearly every band to go straight to the keyboards and leave the guitars as-is, which is a huge mistake.  Thankfully, Darkenhöld knew that before they even started.


Castellum does an excellent job creating the sense of the medieval by only rarely becoming a thing of the geek.  The vastness they try to portray is very clear, you can feel it without even being told what they’re trying to do.  And, surprisingly, they’re able to derive ancient-sounding forms from what are typical black metal passages.  Speed and wailing suddenly breaks into what sounds like a jolly good feast, but yet without a single sense of idiocy to be found.  You actually feel yourself transported out of your mother’s house almost instantly, it’s like you’ve been living on your own forever.  If any complaint can be made, it’s on two factors.  One, the vocal delivery is excellent, but it’s straightforward.  Black metal crow screaming is great and all, but some variety would have been welcome here, because it always is.  Further, those keyboards.  Now, generally Darkenhöld has done a fine job mixing epic black metal with medieval flair, for the most part it slays, but occasionally, by virtue of how that music actually worked ages ago, it can sound somewhat uninspiring.  On one final note, that one track, “The Bulwarks Warlords” might be a slight bit of cryptomnesia, because that riff run near the end sounds oddly familiar…  Anyway, Castellum has proven to us that such a thing is, in fact, possible, because plenty of the tracks do it right without falling to Lord of the Rings references.  We’ve had enough of those in the past, and Darkenhöld has got something new going on here that most certainly will go well if they play their cards right.


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Written by Stanley Stepanic

Darkenhöld – Castellum
Those Opposed Records
4 / 5