Dane Cross caused a stir in 2017 when he released the self-titled Sacred Son album with a smiling photograph of himself on the cover. Black metal puritans baulked. How could somebody who looked like a postgraduate geography student write something so dark and sinister? Some of you might also know Cross as a member of London post-metal titans, Dawnwalker, where he moonlights as the bassist. As in 2019, Dawnwalker’s Mark Norgate repays the favour by joining Sacred Son as a part of a wider quartet with Jamie Tatnell on drums and Stuart Gardham on guitars. Now armed with album number three, the band explore the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt in England as the subject matter for a modern allegory on the disparities between rich and poor in a fractured society. This should clear up why Dane Cross dresses like a long-haired academic.
The Foul Deth of Engelond can be a crash-course history lesson for those unaware of the febrile climate in England in the late fourteenth century, where an unpopular war with France (The Hundred Years War) and the devastation of the Black Plague reduced the country’s population by nearly fifty percent in the thirty years before the 1381 uprising. The causes of the insurrection were the burden of high taxation (a poll tax), heavy-handed governance, and the lasting strains of serfdom. It ended in defeat for the peasants, but it remains part of the national consciousness and an iconic moment in English history for the socialist left.
Opener, ‘Pestilence’, is an atmospheric mood composition enveloped in cello bows and minimalist piano notes set against the backdrop of ambient guitars. It makes sense to start the album with an intro piece as the platform for the story to begin with the thirteen-minute title track. This comes into life with panned guitars feeling their way into the song – one fretting the thick doom chords, the other picking the strings in a slow tremolo technique. Tatnell’s double-kick drums enter at just after the one-minute mark like a sudden shot of gun powder. This is what My Dying Bride would sound like if they played black metal. Here, Dane Cross’s vocals shriek and grunt in a bloodthirsty inflection at odds with the rich cadences of the old English language. “Serfdom/ Injustice endures/ I plough the field, harvest the corn/ For naught; no silver crossed my palm,” he rages, with deliberate distance between his voice and the microphone. Fans of the first wave of black metal will appreciate the raw Bathory assault, yet you can also hear the raw extremity of The Meads of Asphodel in the mix. Listen how the song relaunches in the final two minutes as an emotional doom metal narrative after a brief interlude of trotting horses and delicate piano notes. Where did these thirteen minutes go?
The song titles should give you an idea of the themes for each track on this album. ‘Le Blackheth’ covers the famous assembly of the Kentish rebels at Blackheath in the presence of their rebel leader, John Ball, where his rousing sermon led to them rejecting the overtures of the Bishop of Rochester to go home. The mid-tempo tremolo guitars give way to a chaotic entanglement of goblin screams and messy blast beats, but the awesome death metal butchery powering the refrain of “Death to the sycophants” is the standout moment here.
Access to the lyrics is essential if you’re to get the most out of this cerebral record. ‘The Boy King’ imagines the revolt from the perspective of fourteen-year-old King Richard II and starts with gothic piano contemplations. The next eight minutes of dark transgressions and heavy amp distortion drown in a sea of evil machinations. You’ll feel like you’re standing five yards away from a blow torch at the end. “Five heads on pikes!” screams Cross, in an agonising roar of fervid emotion. It sounds even better set to a grimy death metal dynamic.
The nine minutes of closing track, ‘Vengeance I & II’, are perhaps the most curious and challenging during the listening experience. Here, Cross explores simple Medieval melodies on folk guitar and utilises a solemn percussion to enlighten the female vocal harmonies. “As the new era dawned of a hostile king/ Cruel obsessive vengeance swept through the land,” lament Cross and his female companion. You can almost feel like you’re in St Albans watching the execution of William Grindecobbe until the raw black metal kicks in and gives way to an overly long exploration of death-doom posturing. It could do with a trim of at least two minutes, but it’s a powerful way to end the album.
Sacred Son take pride in their unorthodox approach to black metal, yet their spirit matches the original dynamism of the second wave pioneers. Make no mistake: this is a major triumph for the English underground and a record that will resonate for many years to come. The next question is where to find a metal-headed mace for a future march on Parliament…
Release Date: 13/05/2022
Record Label: True Cult Records
Standout tracks: The Foul Deth of Engelond, Le Blackheth
Suggested Further Listening: The Meads of Asphodel – Damascus Steel (2006), Triptykon – Melana Chasmata (2014), Bathory – Blood Fire Death (1988)