Etwas – Rites of the Damned – Chvpter. II


French quartet, Etwas, are one of the hardest working and most passionate artists in the metal underground. They’re happy to open for every established band passing through the Occitanie region if it allows them to spread their music and indulge their love of performing. Now on album number two after their 2022 Enochian Keys – Chvpter I opus, they return with another piece of symphonic metal theatre crafted in the virgin snow among enchanted forests. Popcorn is not necessary, but you might desire a cape and a goblet of blood.

Etwas make it clear in opening mood piece, ‘Rites of the Damned’, that you’re invited to a cinematic world of macabre intrigue where you might lose your humanity and discover your supernatural abilities. ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ follows like an enveloping mist on the riverbeds. Here, they jump into the black metal tremolos with choral keyboards as eagerly as a misanthrope dives into the abyss. Victoria Hove snarls in a raspy vocal like a demonic predator licking her lips. It’s impressive how she switches from this style to a soprano uplift. Likewise, the guitars retain a heavy presence throughout despite the layering of symphonics. Listen to the down-picking and double-kick fills in the chorus. Watered down this is not.

A mischievous incantation introduces the gothic pomp of ‘Haunting Curse’ in style. The black metal elements of this music invoke the drama of Dark Funeral, yet the overall vibe is Fleshgod Apocalypse minus the generous budget. Hove is confident enough to single-track her melodic parts as she lets her notes saunter like a flute. The reverb of the gothic choirs is forceful enough to summon the Candyman in your mirror’s reflection.

Etwas want their music to sound malevolent, and they persuade you of the merits of its trespasses through clever exaggeration in the likes of ‘Seance of Shadows’ and ‘Danse Macabre’. There are no obvious digital enhancements here, although the mix is lively and respectful of each instrument except the bass, which seldom catches your attention. The only predictable thing is the alternation between the demonic and angelic vocals. How to calibrate angelic voice patterns with crushing guitars is a challenge for most bands of this genre – Etwas are quite competent at it. ‘Danse Macabre’ will make you believe that you can touch the snow drops with your calloused fingers as you moisten your lips with ice in the desperate hope that it will slake your thirst?

Transporting you to a fairytale of the Grimm brothers requires talent, and Etwas can thank Victoria Hove’s voice for this. ‘Bloodmoon Invocation’ sounds like the witch beckoning Hansel and Gretel through the forests and into her kitchen. The chorus uplift reminds you that the breadcrumb trail offers an escape route. Her goblin vocals have a strange clarity to them in ‘Unholy Verses’, where brutal chugging guitars and guttural threats fight against an incandescent fog of keyboard atmospherics.

Like all symphonic metal albums, Rites of the Damned – Chvpter. II struggles to resolve juxtapositions that are almost impossible to square. Blast beats and soprano histrionics are a novel combination in the faster sections of these songs, yet they never feel natural. Likewise, the oh and ah of the keyboard arrangements provide a perfect backdrop for Hove to reach for her most trepid high-register notes, but these sometimes overshadow the guitars.

The music of Etwas wants you to shiver and fear the phantom over your shoulder. One more song would tip this into tedious territory, but ten cuts is just about right for a record of forty-two minutes. Are you ready to summon the dead spirits of the world?


Verdict


Release Date: 16/05/2024

Record Label: Self-released

Standout tracks: Haunting Curse, Unholy Verses, Litanies of Darkness

Suggested Further Listening: Ignea – The Realms of Fire and Death (2020), Exanimis – Marionnettiste (2021), W.E.B. – Colosseum (2021)