Soundchecks Music Reviews

Under the Banner of Suffering

Melancholia Records


review by Octavio Ramos Jr

Hailing from France, Maleficentia follows up 1999's Born Of Steel And Fire with Under The Banner Of Suffering. Although at its core a symphonic black metal band, Maleficentia also taps into gothic metal and progressive metal, using the melancholy and the experimental to revitalise suppressed emotions and stir the senses.

Under The Banner Of Suffering begins with Sovereign, which immediately establishes Arpad's keyboards as a dominant instrument. But black metal quickly rears its horned head, and with it comes the percussive blasts, the droning guitars, and Daevhorn's demon-screeched vocals. Bewitched In Anthanor Tears blends gothic metal sensibilities with the darker elements of black metal, creating an intense and compelling composition. Gods Of Lankhmar (Fafhrd And The Gray Mouser, anyone?) unleashes the guitars, with both Aragoth and Ashragon setting down some hideous riffs and harsh rhythms.

Clocking in at less than four minutes - short by Maleficentia standards, Stronghold Of Witchery picks up the pace, creating a counter-dirge that brings with it a certain measure of the sardonic. Toward The Eternal Bliss is an experimental piece filled with mysterious whispers and chants, keyboard stings, and some epic-styled drumming courtesy of Sammy Hemila. Maleficentia propels forward the woofer, with Svarog taking centre-stage while keyboards punctuate the low end. The guitars also step forward on this track, at times the rhythms soft while at others they are raw and intense. As with most tracks, the keyboards catalyse the moods, which range from sadness to outright rancour.

The Ethereal Legion details the rise of the "army of the goat," whose knights must eradicate the "Christian shit" upon the earth. There's a little of Cradle Of Filth and Dimmu Borgir influencing this track, particularly on the keys and guitar riffs, but overall this song stands on its own. The final seconds of this track will leave you breathless. Closing out the CD is the title track, which ends on this lyrical note: "See the kingdom of dust rising to the impious eyes/ Such a vulture rushing on his carrion/ See the chaos devouring the excrement on the altar of rancour."

Beautiful yet revolting, compelling yet repulsive, and melodic yet aggressive; all these elements are on display in Under The Banner Of Suffering. Progressive black metal, the type the mighty Emperor championed throughout its career, flows within the blood of the members of Maleficentia. Nothing more need be said.

Edited by Tony Lee
for PIGASUS Press