Of Witches and Celts

Originally released September 2000, the fine folks at ISO666 have given us a high quality demo on cd, where it should have been from the beginning. Griffar, formed in 1997 in France, three years later released their first “demo”, Of Witches and Celts, on cassette, which “took so long because we cared for doing well…and wanted to modify the songs.” Hellskrim, speaking for the band, says, “Griffar do not seek to create a linear music, rather a devastating symphony strewn with more technical parts.” This disc is far more accomplished that what most bands count as demo material, and for that matter easily superior to countless hundreds of full-fledged albums. The question on many minds when they hear of a new band is ‘Is it original.’ Not really, but that is an unfair question. More to the point is ‘Is it plagiarism?’ Referring to them as the French Dissection or some such would be grossly unfair because multiple influences shine through, more like the essence of one band from memories of long time familiarity joined with those same essences of other bands. The most obvious influence to me is not even a black metal band, but Iron Maiden, especially in the slower instrumental parts and in the guitar rhythms. Think “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” done cold and grim. Candlemass comes through in the introductory passage of the final track. The basis for the overall feel, however is Scandinavian black, Dissection, Immortal, Satyricon, etc. Out of all of this Griffar emerges with an unusual, if not unique sound.

Great compositions, great musicianship, excellent production values, and a flair for gloomy atmospheres. The pace is often slow and melodic and often swift and technical, leaving the vocals to carry the tone of extremity throughout. The vocal delivery, gravel crewing at its finest, does much to carry the album. Weak vocals can ruin an otherwise grand album and strong vocals can lift an otherwise good disk. It is rare to find a band excelling in both. Hellskrim is not even the original vocalist, he took over vocals in addition to his guitar duties when the original vocalist left. His vocals are a deep rumbling growl from deep in the chest that comes out so effortlessly that it’s almost purring, the result of which is easily understood enunciation. Often in black metal guitars are overpowered by drumming. That is not the case here. The drumming is often harsh often subdued always competent, and follows the guitars, making the music flow very well, not arbitrary in its structure. There are passages where the drums take the foreground and also places where they disappear. Actually, older metal/rock seems to be the style of drumming more so than black metal origins.

The lyrics for each song are very lengthy, but because of the overall length of the songs there is still room for lengthy instrumental pieces without causing the need for rushed vocal delivery. Those lyrics deal with sorcery, paganism, fantasy, history, stories really, not typical lyrics. Griffar write about “our identity, our pride of belonging to a people, a culture, a history.” The album is divided into two parts lyrically, Chronicle of a Blazing Witchcraft, and The Celtic Spectre. The first part deals with black magic, torture, supernatural elements fused with the historic reality of 15th century France and it is divided into two songs totaling 28 minutes. Part two, The Celtic Spectre, deals with vengeance, paganism, war, biblical satanism, and is the story of abandoning Catholicism for Paganism. It also consists of two songs, totaling 21 minutes. Yes, that’s right, four songs, fifty minutes, watch out Graveland, a new master of the fifteen minute epic is emerging.

The band stresses that they are a pagan band, not a satanic band, stating that satan is used for imagery and story value, not the basis of their beliefs, stating that “the only spiritual source of capacity that is faithful to our origins is paganism.” The band’s label describes them as cold majestic pagan black metal, which may lead some potential fans to skip this disc. This stereotypical description does not do them justice, but they are also not trying to pick up the trendy bandwagon jumpers that respond to such descriptions. By the way, the album cover art is by Louis Boulancer (1806-1867) and titled “The Round Dance of Sabbath.”

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Grimulfr
August 15th, 2002


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