A friend of mine, who is not largely into metal, asked me the other day what my favorite metal band was. I gave him my usual evasive, yet largely true, response: this is a question with an answer that changes on a day-to-day basis. I love metal so much and am so passionate about so many bands that it can be hard to even attempt anything in the neighborhood of picking a “favorite.” Yet without a doubt, The Ruins of Beverast are a band that consistently ends up on my short list when I do reckon with this topic. When I think about “favorite” bands, I think about bands whose music sticks with you, bands that cultivate a sound that makes them stand out from others, and The Ruins have, over a storied career, come to a point where their sound is unlike any other I have ever heard. Enter The Thule Grimoires, an album that takes this history of wild creativity and continues to push the limits of what its creator, and metal as a whole, is capable of.
The Ruins of Beverast have been a singular force in the world of extreme metal for almost three decades now, starting in 2003 with their first demo and through classic releases such as Rain Upon the Impure and Blood Vaults (yes, Blood Vaults is a classic release; I have seen this album maligned too many times and will not stand for it). The band’s style of low-tuned atmospheric blackened doom metal, named “sinister black metal” by the band’s sole creative force Alexander von Milenwald, has never been anything one could describe as straightforward, but through the years more and more influences of psychedelia, gothic post-punk, and Pink Floyd-esque experimentalism have been thrown into the mix. This, for me, is where the magic of The Ruins of Beverast lies. There seems to be a split among fans of the band, those who prefer the ‘sinister’ or the ‘black metal’ in sinister black metal, whether you stick to Unlock the Shrine and Rain Upon the Impure or whether you give love to the band’s later, more unconventional tendencies. I have always found myself in the camp of the ‘sinister’; the weirder The Ruins’ vision gets, the more I am drawn to it, and on The Thule Grimoires weirdness is the law of the land.
The most obvious advancement of The Ruins’ sound on their most recent effort is the more overt leaning on the gothic elements of their sound. Thule’s lead single “Cromlec’h Knell,” for all its heaviness, has a dancy post-punk quality to the chorus, accented by Milenwald’s smooth, droning clean vocals, and even the more raging black metal moments on the album are warped by this dark, spacey lens into something dreamlike and fantastical. It feels like a natural progression the band has been building towards for some time, yet Thule still feels like a leap forward and not just a step. All the elements that were present on Exuvia, Blood Vaults, and Foulest Semen of a Sheltered Elite have become crystalized into the most cohesive version of The Ruins’ sound yet. There isn’t a shaky moment on Thule, whether its black metal, slithering doom, or psychedelic sprawl, leaving the entire album engaging over its one-hour plus run time, which is maybe the best compliment I (a person with famously low tolerance for long albums) can give it.
If there was any doubt before I started writing this album review about whether or not The Ruins of Beverast have a place among my favorite bands in metal, it has been shattered by another repeat listen to The Thule Grimoires. You just can’t find anything else that comes close to the sound this band has built for themselves, and even among the rest of their albums, this deserves to be remembered as one of, if not the best works they have ever put out.