Those who love heathen and pagan black metal and possess an affinity for genuine underground art will have certainly stumbled upon the Dutch label Heidens Hart Records and its excellent releases from bands like Heimdalls Wacht, Ancestors Blood, or Mordaehoth. Label founder Arjan Peeks is, however, not only active as a businessman and dedicated underground patron, but he also passionately plays in various bands, most notable of which would be Cultus since 1998. At the beginning of this year, Peeks decided to release his latest album, Gezeteld in zegeruïnen, which has conveniently been released via his own label.
It is important to note that Gezeteld in zegeruïnen is not a novel or fresh album in the classic sense of the words, but is rather a newly arranged and re-recorded version of the Cultus debut, A Seat in Valhalla, which was released via Tour de Garde in 2004. Whereas the original version of Cultus’s debut appeared on cassette, A Seat in Valhalla was reissued on CD just a few years later. For the time being, it remains mysterious as to why Peeks decided to extensively rework his earlier compositions and rerecord them. This procedure is especially interesting considering the fact that changes on one’s early art is often considered blasphemous by black metal purists (for example, the controversy surrounding the rerecording of Gorgoroth’s Under the Sign of Hell).
Judging from a musical perspective, Gezeteld in zegeruïnen is, however, anything but a meaningless release simply because of its artistic merit. Cultus shows with intuition and tact how black metal can be combined with heathen and pagan lyrics without becoming too ostentatious. This is quite a task considering how many bands and releases have crafted exactly this combination. One could go as far as to say that the whole genre has basically dealt with these lyrical topics ad nauseam. But the charm of Gezeteld in zegeruïnen begins with the striking artwork of Odin’s horde riding across the sky (surely a tribute to Quorthon’s work) and ends with the simple fact that Peeks focuses on unrelenting black metal and works very subtly with melodies and typical atmospheric interludes. One has only to wait until the epic eight-minute fifth song to hear the hooves of heathen warriors pounding, which thankfully is so well-integrated into this atmospheric piece that it does not sound as gaudy as it reads.
During the other six tracks, the listener is confronted with aggressive orthodox black metal. The percussive performance in particular stays true to the minimalistic innovators of the genre (think, for example, Darkthrone’s black metal trilogy), and simply set the pace for the song, but they hardly stick out. Session drummer Floris Velthuis of Asgrauw therefore does a fantastic job in aiding Peeks, but the drum lines are not the highlight of the album. That honor belongs to the guitar performance as Peeks skilfully manages to organically switch between sharp and melodic riffs in order to grant the seven songs some feeling of grandeur. As already mentioned, this can be best heard in the long track ‘V’, but also in its successor, ‘VI’.
When comparing the first version of this album, A Seat in Valhalla, to Gezeteld in zegeruïnen, an important evolution comes to mind. Without a doubt, the new arrangements of the songs, the shortening of the album lengths (only thirty-four instead of thirty-nine minutes), and the modified track order have severely altered the album’s atmosphere, but the decision to produce Gezeteld in zegeruïnen in a manner that is less raw and instead more clear also brings great transformation. Naturally, this decision takes away some of the viciousness of the seven compositions, but it also leads to the fact that the songs sound more variable and rich in detail, simply because you can hear some gimmicks better. It’s difficult to judge if the clearer production is objectively an improvement, but in combination with the reworking of the album, it makes Gezeteld in zegeruïnen very different from A Seat in Valhalla. One could even say that Peeks has ‘deconstructed’ his first album, and has therefore managed to offer an entirely different and worthwhile perspective to his compositions.