France’s Darkenhöld have slowly carved a spot for themselves in the increasingly crowded French black metal scene with three solid releases, the latest being 2014’s Castellum. Following on the heels of 2012’s stellar Echoes from the Stone Keeper, this new release continues in the same vein as previous albums without introducing many new elements or wrinkles to the bands typical approach. You might think that would be a problem, but Darkenhöld has a rather unique take on black metal and I’m glad they haven’t decided to dilute it to fit better into the overall scene. While the band’s strength lies in strongly melodic, mid tempo black metal that isn’t overly aggressive or dependent on blast beats, there’s enough complexity and creativity sprinkled into the compositions to keep things from becoming mundane. In addition, the eerie keyboard atmospherics along with the fanciful medieval-inspired lyrics and song titles helps to push the band’s output further into the realm of fantasy and mythology without ever being too cheesy or over-the-top.
As far as how Castellum relates to previous releases, I’d say that as of now I’m more partial to the previous release, which contained some excellent standout tracks like ‘Echoes from the Stone Keeper’ and ‘Wyvern Chant Solitude’. It was also my introduction to the band so there’s that emotional attachment as well. That said, Castellum is certainly an extremely enjoyable release with a few great tracks of its own, and I also am impressed by the consistency of quality songwriting throughout the entire release this time around. Ever since hearing Darkenhöld for the first time I’ve been pretty excited about what they’ll put out next, and this latest album does nothing to temper my enthusiasm for this project. Fans of the more melodic side of black metal should give this one a listen for sure.