Saille – Ritu

In 2009, Belgian keyboardist Dries Gaerdelen wanted to compose and produce a studio only symphonic black metal project that was heavily melodic yet still retained the genre’s menacing attitude. After recording at Shumcot studio and a few months of mixing and mastering, Saille’s full length debut, Irreversible Decay, was born. As you can imagine, since Gaerdelen is a keyboardist, the synth based arrangements throughout this record are outstanding. After signing a deal with Code666 records and recruiting some full-time musicians, Saille was now a properly outfitted unit and took their symphonic horror show on the road. Two years later, their follow-up debut and first album as a complete band is upon us.

“In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” I’ve always cherished these words. It is the immortal chant spoken by a primitive backwater cult who worship an ancient and terrifying deity in H.P. Lovecraft’s infamous short story, Call of Cthulhu. And over the years, many many artists have payed homage to the Lovecraftian mythos in every possible conceivable way from song titles, album titles, lyrics, t-shirts, to even obscure small font liner dedications. Unfortunately, though some of them excel on the extreme metal front, most of them woefully fall short in capturing the main chilling idea pervasive across all of Lovecraft’s short stories: that their are horrific cosmic forces at work in which the human race can not possibly fathom let alone comprehend. Yet Saille’s follow-up and Cthulhu inspired concept album, Ritu, is different. This album takes a real honest to goodness stab at honoring its concept without feeling too cliche or over the top, which is tough given the fact it’s rooted in symphonic black metal, a jaded genre to say the least. For me, this is probably the first metal album that really does Lovecraft justice (or the only I can remember). Regardless, Ritu is a fantastic release that firmly establishes Saille as Belgium’s premier symphonic black metal act and resident Lovecraft aficionados.

The album begins with “Blood Label,” a song right out of the trusty Carach Angren playbook, with vocalist Dennie Grondelaers retelling some tale before the blast beast onslaught ensues. The song features a very tastefully done violin breakdown before it goes back to the black. The next song and highlight is “Subcultaneous Terror” which features a wonderfully executed piano and violin intro that builds an immediate sense of terror. The track reaches its zenith around the 3:45 where the song winds down for some stream of conscious German monologue before restarting itself again. The singer really does sound insane and has me convinced that he was definitely visited by one of the Old Ones in his dreams (and then wrote . “Fhtagn” is a fascinating attempt to sing about Cthulhu from the cultist perspective. The chanting mid-way through is awesome and a much welcomed change of pace. Do not miss.

“Upon the Idol of Crone” returns to more traditional Dimmu Borgir territory with intense tremolo picking and blast beats galore. But these Belgians keeps things interesting with an accordion breakdown reminiscent of an old circus freak show that really maintains the album’s dark ambiance perfectly. “Sati” is probably the most symphonic song with a very cool gypsy inspired intro. The next track, “A Titan’s Sacrifice,” provides a 3 minute ominous interlude before the wonderful highlight,”Haunter of the Dark.” Again, Saille switches it up yet again with more riff driven structures to get your head moving instead of just picking and screaming followed by more picking. “Runaljod” actually reminds me of a Type O Negative song with a women sobbing in the background amid more accordion. Without a doubt, this is the best song on this beast featuring an acoustic midsection that is just gorgeous. The album ends with “Ritual Descent” where frantic piano playing and occult chanting bridge into more symphonic glory before the song abruptly ends.

Ritu was mastered by Tom Kvålsvoll of Strype Audio and it’s modern cookie cutter production. The mix does a fairly good job of incorporating a lot of the symphonic elements given there are so many of them including violin, piano, accordion, and even the trombone. However, unlike their debut, I feel keyboards play less of a critical role here with the focus more on guitars. Overall though, the mix is extremely balanced with all musicians participating in this occult ritual. But with this level of hyper compression drums suffer the most and bass is just non-existent. Again, this is by no means a horrible sounding CD by modern metal standards (sigh), but it’s also not a very good one either. Seriously, boilerplate.

Saille’s Ritu does not disappoint. For fans of Carach Angren and Dimmu Borgir, you need to give Saille a spin. Despite the fact that most of this material is derivative, it’s still an extremely competent release that is loads of fun. Highly Recommended.

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