Rituals of the Dead Hand – With Hoof & Horn

Band: Rituals of the Dead Hand
Title: With Hoof & Horn
Label: Dunkelheit Produktionen
Release Date: 1 May 2021
Country: Belgium
Format Reviewed: Digital Download

There are certain records that have such a consistent and powerful atmosphere that the world they create will really impress itself on the listener no matter how removed it may be from the world outside. Right now in Düsseldorf it’s a beautiful, sunny day. The birds are singing, children are playing and the air is alive with the songs of spring. In my apartment however, as “With Hoof and Horn”, the second album by Belgium’s Rituals of the Dead Hand plays, there is no warmth, there is no light, there is no joy or redemption; it’s cold, it’s harsh, it’s brutal, it’s dark and there’s no escape. So strap yourself in and get ready for the band to take you to the heart of darkness.

Rituals of the Dead Hand are a band fuelled by the dark mythology of a gang of 18th century bandits, the ‘Buckriders’ who legend has it sold their souls to the devil and terrorised poor God-fearing folks of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. Sounds like good source material for an Extreme Metal band? It is. This mythology was the foundation of the band’s 2018 debut Blood Oath and the band continues on that dark journey with their latest record. After a brief atmospheric intro the album consists of four long tracks (roughly 10-12min each) that will keep the listener locked into this dark universe for the duration of its 44 minute run time. There’s nowhere to hide, you are the prey.

“With Hoof and Horn” is Black Metal in the sense that everything in this world is black. The sense of doom, torment and unforgiving brutality is an ever present. A reference point I often come back to as the album plays out is Celtic Frost, another band who created the darkest of atmospheres. In particular you might draw some comparisons between the doomy, heavy riffing here and Celtic Frost’s final album “Monotheist”. For other musical reference points you might also look to Darkthrone or Asphyx, the latter sharing a similar vocal style as well as a preference for stomping, heavy as all hell, gut churning riffing.

While the tone and the hellish mood is an ever present, part of what keeps the album fresh the whole way through is the changes of pace as the band drag the listener through the dirt in this relentless march. “Sulphur” opens with some very Black Metal tremolo picking, before the drums and bass join in for a pounding mid-tempo march. The drums play this really odd sequence at the end of certain phrases. It’s a kind of off-kilter, stumbling effect. Just one of the interesting quirks to be found throughout the album, and through the course of the track there are several interesting twists and transitions that the band take the listener through. While the drums, guitar and bass carry the album, there’s some subtle but effective orchestral arrangements that vary the sound in places, while choir vocals add another dimension when they appear, as they do on the track “Inception”.

Picking out is hard as the whole album flows together so well. This is really an album to be played from start to finish as the hellish, demonic possession carves its path of dark destruction. That being said there is a sense of the album coming to a dark climax with the closing track “Vuurstaeck”, as the music flows from a pummelling, double bass driven rhythm, into drawn out, almost ambient passages, into a churning final sequence. Strangely, here and elsewhere, despite the gruelling ugliness, there’s also a kind of dark beauty to a lot of the sounds the band creates. At times there’s almost something soothing about this music, but make no mistake these are no lullabies for sleepy tots.

Rituals of the Dead Hand are not a band out to dazzle you with flair and extravagant musicianship, they’re going to march you through a barren landscape and if you’re not careful you might get trampled in the dirt, but the band sure dishes out the punishment with malevolent style. If you want to bring the darkest night to even the brightest of days “With Hoof and Horn” is a perfect soundtrack. 8.5/10 Tom Boatman

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8.5/10 To greatness and glory!
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