I have a lot of respect for bands that know when the time is right to walk away. Far too often we see bands that cling onto life, churning out albums and tours for no other reason than because they know no other life. It's an understandable temptation, but it's one of the reasons being a fan is sometimes difficult. We invest our time and our energy in the music, only to find that the bands aren't doing the same. The Devil's Blood has taken the other route, choosing to walk away before the release of this, their third and final album.
I had never heard a note of The Devil's Blood before, but knowing the circumstances surround the release of the album, I already thought highly of the band. The fact that the album starts off with the multi-section, twenty-two minute monster “I Was Promised A Hunt”, merely meant that this was going to be an interesting experience.
While most of the bands playing this sort of retro occult music have stuck to short bursts of catchy sacrilege, The Devil's Blood does more than any of them to explore what lingers beyond the edges of verse/chorus/verse in this kind of dark music. While I appreciate the approach, there's also something to be said for why conventional songwriting became conventional. “I Was Promised A Hunt” is a sprawling piece of music, but it expands in all directions at once, spreading with the efficacy of The Blob. Yes, it's massive, but there's also not much to it. There are a couple of moments that, if excised, could have been turned into solid tracks, but when put together as one hulking monolith, feel smaller than their size would indicate.
Things get better as the tracks get shorter, with the more compact “The Lullaby Of The Burning Boy” a solid song that grafts the sonic palate onto a sturdy melodic framework. “...If Not A Vessel” reinforces this sound, while including some fine guitar soloing right off the bat. It's just enough a twist of convention that it feels fresh, while maintaining the heart of a familiar structure.
“In The Loving Arms Of Lunacy's Secret Demons” shares a trait with its title; it's too long. The main vocal line and the chord structure are both interesting bits of music, but it continues to churn along for more than seven minutes without giving much of a break, which is more than enough time for even the best of ideas to be run into the ground. It's in moments like this that it becomes evident that “III” was not a finished product when the band called it a day.
“III: Tabula Rasa or Death and the Seven Pillars” is an album of two minds. The final six tracks are a fine batch of antique rock that would be enjoyable enough to listen to, even if they aren't the sorts of songs that demand to be heard over and over again. But when the first track gets off to such a rough start, and it takes up such a large chunk of the running time, it's a tall task to overcome that misstep. Ultimately, while I respect The Devil's Blood, and wanted very much to like the album, I have to say it underwhelmed me. There are moments that are great, but I expect a little bit more than that from an album, especially if it's going to be a swansong.