BLOOD CEREMONY: BLOOD CEREMONY (2008)
1) Master Of Confusion; 2) I'm Coming With You; 3) Into The Coven; 4) A Wine Of Wizardry; 5) Rare Lord; 6) Return To Forever; 7) Hop Toad; 8) Children Of The Future; 9) Hymn To Pan.
Nobody could predict that, having hired Tony Iommi to replace Mick Abrahams in Jethro Tull, Ian Anderson pretty much signed his death warrant as a creative force. The entrepreneurial, quick-witted Iommi very quickly assumed command, placing his iron-fingered riffage above everybody and everything else. To ensure his dominance over the rest of the band, he brought in old pal Geezer Butler to play bass and write exclusive lyrics about witches, wizards, and warlocks, while at the same time relegating Ian Anderson to the only thing that, according to Tony's opinion, he really did well: play the flute.
Since, because of these changes, the newly reformed band needed a singer, Tony thought of bringing back his other pal, Ozzy Osbourne — seeing as how, though, the latter was just recently sentenced to three years of prison for stealing a broken radio set, they decided to go for a female touch instead and hired Sonja Kristina from Curved Air, and she, in turn, brought along her old pal, Ray Manzarek, from the Doors. The newly gathered supergroup then went on to call itself «Blood Ceremony» and became the chief competitor of Uriah Heep on the «demons & wizards» market, although their melting-pot approach never translated to much commercial or critical success. Eventually, the enthusiasm just fizzled out, and everybody went their own way. Iommi returned to his old sheet metal factory, Ian Anderson retired to raise Guernsey cows and mistletoe, Sonja Kristina got married to Ritchie Blackmore, Manzarek secured a job as gatekeeper at the Père Lachaise, and Geezer Butler got electrocuted onstage while playing a bass tritone.
Fast forward to 2008 and switch from this parallel universe to the one of whose reality we feel a little more certain (with undue arrogance, perhaps), and welcome the new Blood Ceremony, one of these specially designed «what if...?» bands if there ever was one. The settings are a little different, but the essence is pretty much the same. They do hail from Toronto rather than England, and their lineup consists of Jeremy Finkelstein on drums, Chris Landon on bass, Sean Kennedy on guitars, and Alia O'Brien on vocals, keyboards, and, yes, flute (so she combines the Kristina, Manzarek, and Anderson parts all in one).
It is impossible to even begin to try to take this music seriously — doing so will immediately place this band in the Uriah Heep category. However, it is possible to be amused and even mildly stimulated by it as a contemporary retro-genre experiment. The Internet age exposure to all sorts of all sorts of things shows us that in the 2000s, there is a demand for everything: we are living in a poly-eclectic age the likes of which the world has never seen before, and existing demand for «heavy witchy music» of the early 1970s should come of as little surprise to us as demand for any other style of music that the human mind can imagine. In fact, this type of demand may even be higher than the average — off the top of my head, I can remember Black Mountain doing similar stuff and even getting away with it, critically and commercially.
Blood Ceremony, however, are much more «hardcore» than Black Mountain. Once they get their groove going, they do not strive all that much to change or diversify it, and their lyrical focus on «dark pagan practices» ensures that their popularity will forever be limited to a rather specific type of audience. Some critics have noticed them from a pat-pat-pat-her-on-the-butt angle of view, but none of the albums charted anywhere, because most people probably took one glance at the album cover and decided that this is one of those hardcore fan-only archival releases from yet another forgotten band circa 1970. Like Steamhammer or something.
Well — they wouldn't be totally off base, because it is only a good audiophile who immediately knows how to tell a 21st century guitar tone from a 20th century one that will quickly understand what period we are talking about here. Other than that, these guys observe the formalities right down to their visual image (robes, capes, long hair, you name it), and this religious devotion to such a special time and place in history should command respect. In fact, fuck respect, I actually admire what they're doing and the cool sound they're getting. Everything stated above is true: Iommi guitar + Anderson flute + Manzarek organ + stern female vocals, song after song after song. And oh, those titles! ʽMaster Of Confusionʼ. ʽInto The Covenʼ. ʽChildren Of The Futureʼ. ʽHymn To Panʼ. Classic stuff.
You do know what's coming up, though, right? You do know that the next thing I am going to say is that they have one fatal flaw — and that flaw is, of course, that the songs as such are boring and predictable. What Sean Kennedy, credited as the chief writer for these guys, is trying to do, as far as I can tell, is that he listens long and hard to several Black Sabbath songs, then mixes the different chords from their riffs (as a rule, this has to include the tritone, or else there wouldn't be that much blood in this ceremony), then puts them back together in different configurations. On top of this, Alia sings some nonsense that must have been digitally generated from a list of preset of keywords (typical example: "Worshippers have gathered under cover of dark / The sorceress is stroking her Aeolian harp / A magus seeks alignment of the stars / Coffin-shaped citadel a door to Mars" — I love this!) and adds her somewhat less-than-awesome organ and flute skills to the proceedings (I believe that a few more lessons from Mr. Ian wouldn't hurt — most of the time she sounds like a rather timid first-year student of the instrument).
In other words, they fall into the same trap as most of the retro-imitators do: their love for this kind of music is ten times larger than their talent for making this music. There is not a single riff on here that would have the same spine-chilling effect as ʽBlack Sabbathʼ or ʽNo Quarterʼ or even ʽLocomotive Breathʼ, despite the fact that all the songs are riff-based — rule number one for them: if there ain't no distinct heavy riff in the song, there ain't no song, period. But these riffs are... eh... well, I'd say they are on the level of Sabbath's latest (13), but what is excusable for a 65-year old Iommi, who has long since overworked his required quota of greatness anyway, is hardly excusable for a young ambitious pothead. Yes, and neither can these guys really solo — the lengthy organ solo passage that O'Brien plays on ʽMaster Of Confusionʼ Manzarek-style does not go anywhere beyond «atmospheric», and Kennedy's solos rely on the old-fashioned stock of blues licks that we all know by heart anyway.
They try to compensate for this by fiddling around with song structures, shifting tempos and tonalities at will, but that, too, is sort of a requirement of the trade, and soon enough you know that if a song begins by slowly going DOOM... DOOM... DOOM..., it will eventually speed up and go CHUG-CHUG-CHUG-CHUG for a while before settling down again. Or there will be a stop-and-start section where Alia is going to blow her flute and go a little crazy. For the record, though, I was almost absolutely sure that the song ʽHop Toadʼ would include a drum solo, in honor of yet another ʽToadʼ, but it didn't (instead, it had a very bad organ solo), so no, you can't predict every move. Also, if you thought that maybe they have a penchant for pastoralism in music, don't: ʽHymn To Panʼ is as dark and somber as everything else on here (other than the flute, I guess — maybe they thought that the presence of the flute obliges them to dedicate at least one song to Pan, something they would repeat on the second album as well).
Even so, all of this is such a hilarious experience that I am still tempted to give this time-defying effort a thumbs up. One might ask why, after all the scorn for, let's say, the unquestionably musically superior Uriah Heep — and I would say, «for the guts». The Heepsters were largely driven by fashion, and presented themselves and their music in much too serious a light for me to agree to succumb to its spell. These guys, on the other hand, are the designers and executors of a fancy musical costume ball, and they get all the ingredients just right. Even the relatively tame musicianship — not just by modern standards, but by 1970's standards as well — becomes an asset here, because it helps concentrate on their «time machine» instead of their egos. If only the formula weren't that limited (it even seems limited compared to the original Sabbath, let alone every other band from which they draw inspiration), but I guess branching out is just not something you are supposed to ask at all from an album recorded in 2008. So just relax, sit back, nibble on your mandrake root, sip on your toadstool essence, and welcome into the coven.