A reliable indicator of the way a nation understands itself is to look at the history curriculum taught in its schools. In England, attention is lavished on the Victorian period, where the country’s bullish imperialism achieved a cruel and unprecedented scale. The Tudor period is another favourite; Henry VIII’s reformation of the monasteries stuck two fingers to the continental Catholic hegemony, a theme revisited by his daughter Elizabeth I with the sinking of the Spanish armada. We can see then that England prides itself on its imperialistic past, naval dominion, and a certain lingering anti-Europeanism (which exists well into the present).
Revolutionary fervour and the upturning of the status quo is not a part of our national identity, which is a pity (not to say a tragedy.) With The Foul Deth Of Engelond, black metal antagonists SACRED SON look to right this wrong as they tell the tale of a sadly overlooked chapter in the country’s history, which teaches a lesson perhaps more pertinent than ever. The Peasant’s Revolt, led by Wat Tyler in 1381, is the first example of a mass revolutionary and anti-monarchist movement in Europe. Excessive taxation lined the pockets of the crown, and unjust courts sustained their power; eventually, the disenfranchised serf classes rebelled. Described by SACRED SON’s principal songwriter Dane Cross as his “ode to righteous leftwing political violence,” the album documents through storytelling and allegory the ambitions and eventual defeat of the movement.
SACRED SON, widely known for that norm-core holiday selfie album artwork and subsequent GCSE history teacher portrait, have a reputation for undermining black metal’s rigid traditions. All the while they have succeeded in producing some completely undeniable material that demonstrates a deep understanding and authentic affection for the style. If we choose to ignore 2020’s hour-long dark ambient offering Levania (and we do), The Foul Deth Of Engelond builds on 2019’s Arthurian Catacombs and its compelling mythic medievalism, which has since been emulated by the likes of MYSTRAS and VÉHÉMENCE.
That being said, The Foul Deth Of Engelond is remarkably orthodox in many ways. You still get those subtle progressive flourishes, but instead of becoming layered in an otherwise raw sound, they stand proud in an incomparably better production courtesy of all-analogue royalty Chris Fullard and Randall Dunn. In some places (and especially the title track) you could have had us believe this was an unreleased CRADLE OF FILTH record. That’s not necessarily the insult it looks like.
What we mean is that there’s something quite ‘classic’ about this record. There are plenty of traditional heavy metal-isms that add some satisfying sense of musicality to the monotone Transilvanian Hunger passages: the rhythmic break in Le Blakheth, for instance, goes extremely hard, and all throughout you’ll find some truly compelling leads to satisfy your melodic appetite. Even when it’s all speed, the pace is offset by the intrigue of the piano and synthesiser. So The Foul Deth Of Engelond is surprisingly easy to listen to, given its dramatic character, and supplies plenty of depth and relistenability too. That’s a tricky balance to have struck, and the mark of real musical maturity.
It’s lyrically captivating, too. Cross has certainly done his research, but also extended us the courtesy of not making it sound like a lecture. A lot of the time you’d be doing yourself a favour by discarding the lyric sheet when you’re breaking into a black metal album for the first time, but here you’d be doing yourself a gross injustice. It’s grand storytelling in an almost operatic style, where the force of the music punctuates and inflects the words themselves, with none of that verse-chorus-verse predictability to spoil the effect. It’s here the CRADLE OF FILTH comparison rears its head again, because whatever you might say about Dani and co., the lyrics have always been undeniable (if a tad teenage literature in places,) and SACRED SON are looking to become much the same.
The Foul Deth Of Engelond is a powerful piece of historical storytelling, which emphasises the significance of the Peasant’s Revolt for a contemporary audience. This is a level of historical and political awareness we love to see in musicians, and through imagery and allegory SACRED SON manage to extract the spirit of rebellion from those events and repurpose them to make a truly compelling black metal album, one which flirts with conventionality but never concedes to it. SACRED SON have just delivered their magnum opus, and it deserves to be experienced in all of its captivating depth.
The Foul Deth Of Engelond is out now via self-release.
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