These days, creating a concept album seems to be in vogue and many bands try to come up with a “concept” album that has no real story to share. Swampcult, the enigmatic duo from Netherlands on the other hand take up established tales of mystery and create their own musical rendition of said tale. Their second full length effort titled ‘The Festival’, focuses on the H.P. Lovecraft short story of the same name. Swampcult’s style of black metal meets doom, is perfectly suited for this weird, mysterious story and the band makes best use of the atmosphere to drive the narration forward.
Swampcult build up the atmosphere in a slow and steady manner, so as to allow the listeners to get accustomed to the maddening aura surrounding the music. The riffs are rather minimalist and the band makes the best use of repetition to get under the listener’s skin. Much like the source material, the tracks meander on at a crawling pace, with two or three riffs being repeated over the course of the track. While it may seem like the tracks have too little variety, the way these riffs permeate through the listener’s mind makes this a non-issue.
The way Swampcult induce a sense of chaos in their music is quite interesting. While many bands rely on the riffs to impart the music with a chaotic feeling, here the vocals manage to do it with the differing styles that range from clean spoken words to venomous snarls, and the occasional manic laughter that manages to send shivers down one’s spine. The vocals feel like ghostly voices in a person’s head that can drive someone to the brink of sanity. Each chapter on the album has it’s own unique sense of dread that aligns well with overarching story. For example, while Chapter III: Al-azif Necronomicon manages to induce a foreboding fear of the unknown contents of the cursed book’s pages, Chapter IV: The Procession embodies the feeling of watching a hooded throng slowly makes it’s way to a mysterious crypt. While the tracks themselves focus on a common feeling of dread, the flavors of the individual tracks are quite varied. The music also includes strange background noises that somehow seem fitting in the atmosphere of the tracks itself like in Chapter V: The Rite where it feels like the winged creatures inhabiting the dark crevices of the crypt have actually surrounded the listener in real life.
The attention to detail by Swampcult in their narration is breathtaking and comes as a breath of fresh air amidst all the empty “concept” albums. The music draws a lot of parallels with the source material and much like the tale itself, it might not be for everybody. ‘The Festival’ does not offer much in terms of immediate returns like catchy riffs are relentless grooves. That said, the way the music slowly grows on you and the effect the atmosphere has on the listener’s psyche is well worth purchasing this record.