rating icon 8.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Lord Abhorrent
02. Shadow Of The Beast
03. Witchfinder
04. The Hunter
05. Bastard Of The East
06. Black Witchery
07. Frozen Fen
08. Messenger Of God

One of the most charismatic black metal bands to emerge from the UK this century, THE INFERNAL SEA have been building up to this for a while. Even as far back as their DIY debut "Call Of The Augur", the distinct impression has been given that this band have a vision that extends beyond warmed-up facsimiles of Norway's greatest hits. Subsequent albums "The Great Mortality" (2015) and "Negotium Crucis" (2020) showed a maturity that cried out for big-label attention, while the Brits' reputation for grimly theatrical and atmospheric live shows had long since become a matter of public record. Now signed to the aesthetically ideal Candlelight Records, THE INFERNAL SEA have grasped the opportunity to make a bigger, bloody splash with a big, black and blasphemous concept album. Focused on the religious persecution of witches in the band's native East Anglia, this is precisely the kind of brash, arrogant show of strength that this band were always destined to deliver.

Firstly, "Hellfenlic" sounds magnificent. With a perfect balance between unholy rawness and unfettered grandiosity, every one of these eight songs sounds vast and undeniable. Opener "Lord Abhorrent" encapsulates THE INFERNAL SEA's intelligent blend of primarily Scandinavian and UK (black) metal influences: as epic and blustery as IMMORTAL but powered by old-school metal muscle and a homegrown sense of sinister melody.

In terms of the concept, this is a skillfully reinvented take on a well-worn theme, and THE INFERNAL SEA are such convincing messengers that even the most stoically godless among us may find ourselves dreaming of witchcraft and the flames of Hell. But even without a narrative to cling to, "Hellfenlic" is an impressively coherent and complete piece of work.

From the grotesque indulgences of "Witchfinder" and the SATYRICON-like pummeling of "Bastard Of The East", to the speed-demon vomit-punk of "Black Witchery", every song contributes something unique and brings a different hue to the overall backdrop of twisted violence and singed flesh. There is something to be said for a raw and unpolished production, but THE INFERNAL SEA are making big-screen black metal now, and songs like the wickedly eerie "Frozen Fen" deserve to be rendered in three dazzling dimensions. The album is full of surprises until the bitter end, too: closer "Messenger Of God" is haunted by mournful violins and plagued by the sting of injustice, with a spiraling, climactic melody hewn from pure melancholy. It's genuinely moving, which is in itself is quite unsettling. Job done.

This is simply one of the most accomplished and ambitious black metal records to come from the UK in years. Very much the finished article at this point, THE INFERNAL SEA have black magic to burn.

Author: Dom Lawson
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