For those who have been following the musical work of Howie Bentley, it has been eight long years we have heard anything new…but there is some good news: the wait is finally over. Many who were familiar with Howie Betley’s former band, Cauldron Born, will be thrilled to know that he is back to writing music with his new metal project, Briton Rites, and they have recently released an album, entitled “For Mircalla.” The album features Phil Swanson on vocals, singer for the doom metal act Hour of 13, and Corbin King on drums, who actually is the guitarist for Vainglory.
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There is not much of a point in comparing Briton Rites to Cauldron Born, because they are two different styles of metal. One comparison I will make, however, is that the style of Briton Rites is much more primitive in many ways than Cauldron Born, as Cauldron Born featured more complex and technical song structures. Briton Rites is more of a nod to early, traditional doom and British Heavy metal, particularly in the vein of Black Sabbath and Witchfinder General, and maybe early Candlemass. The end product here is a more primitive, but aggressive and fierce, dark and commanding work of metal music. Phil Swanson’s singing in particular adds to the commanding nature of the music, as his vocals compliment Howie’s songwriting very well, reminding one to some extent of Ozzy’s vocals in the early Black Sabbath material. Don’t be fooled, however—Phil’s vocals are very unique in their own right and he is no Ozzy clone at all—but his vocals are nonetheless reminiscent of early Sabbath, as is the music of Briton Rites in some ways. Truthfully, however, the music of Briton Rites is more aggressive, and most of the songs are a little faster than early Sabbath. The same can be said for Witchfinder General’s music…there are some similarities, but Briton Rites is heavier and a little faster for the most part. The guitars are tuned a bit lower, which gives it a heavier, more crushing sound in the vein of early Candlemass, particularly their Epicus Doomicus Metallicus and Tales of Creation albums, though the guitar tone is a bit thicker with richer distortion and less reverb.
Though you can find a bit of similarity in these bands to Briton Rites, Briton Rites is its own animal, with its own unique character. It could only have come from the person and mind of Howie Bentley. The music of Briton Rites sounds influenced by all of these bands in some ways, but it really sounds like none of these bands. Though the song structure is relatively simple, the solos are pretty intense and wicked sounding, and even a bit technical at times. Howie even uses the wah effect on a couple of solos on the album, which actually fits very well, adding to their intensity. The drums are pretty simple and straightforward, as are the song structures, generally speaking. Howie Bentley really is a great musician, and while for the most part he has tried to produce a metal album that is more simple and straightforward, at some points the technical guitar genius in him comes out in his soloing. I would say that this is the biggest similarity between Briton Rites and Cauldron Born, probably the most legitimate form of comparison between the two, as Howie has a certain signature sound to his guitar wizardry. Some of the solos on this album are just wicked, with my favorite solo being the one in the Exorcism of Tanith. Howie also plays all of the bass parts, and a lot of times when the guitars are just chugging away at some simple power chords, you hear the bass guitar coming through and doing some fancy leads and fills, which in some ways reminds me of Geezer Butler, but a bit more technical. While Howie really has attempted to simplify things by writing metal music of a more primitive nature (as opposed to the more technical nature of Cauldron Born), he still finds ways to kick some technical ass with Briton Rites. It is just in his nature to show out a bit, I believe. That is what makes his music so special—he plays the music that he loves first and foremost, instead of writing catchy hooks and riffs that sound trendy and cool, or trying to clone other peoples’ music.
Though Phil Swanson is a fantastic singer, I have to say that one of my favorite songs on the album is probably Karnstein Castle. Howie sings on this song instead of Phil, and it is probably the slowest paced song on the album, much more ominous and probably the most “doom metal” song on the album. Even though Phil is a better singer, I like the mood that Howie’s vocals create…they are very dark and ominous, and while he is not the most technically proficient singer, there is a lot of character that comes through in his voice, and I think that it uniquely captures the mood of his lyrics.
One thing that I have not really touched upon is the subject matter of the album. The first song, Carmilla, is based on the story of Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu which was later made into a movie, and is about a female vampire who preys on female victims. The second song is probably one of the most creative lyrically, as it draws heavily upon the short story Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne, combining this influence with the influence of H.P. Lovecraft –it essentially is like Young Goodman Brown meets Lovecraft. As if the Hawthorne short story was not dark enough, Howie found a way to darken it up a bit. The end product here is a pretty wicked tale which captures the imagination, though it is not for the fainthearted.
The next song, Vampire Hunter, 1600 actually is written from the perspective of a holy man who is also a vampire hunter. Vampires are a huge subject of the lyrical content of this album, with three songs about the subject, and if the songs don’t feature vampires, they at least feature succubae and lamiae. The only exception here is the song “All-Hallowed Vengeance,” in which Howie actually takes a Richard Tierney poem and sets it to music. This is a good song to follow up the previous song, Exorcism of Tanith, as both songs are sort of a departure from the vampire theme that is prevalent in this album. The songs are purposefully arranged in the order that they appear, as the album sort of flows together when it is listened to straight through. This album is recommended for all serious metal fans, particularly those who are fans of early British metal or doom metal. As mentioned earlier, however, it is not for the fainthearted. If you’re not much of a horror movie fan, you probably will not be able to appreciate much of the subject matter—however, at least you might be able to appreciate the music. Briton Rites masterfully has combined heavy metal and the horror movie genre in a way that ought to appeal to fans of both.