Music: Review: Blood Ceremony, Louisiana

Robin Askew, June 16, 2017

They’ve done festivals (Temples 2014) and support slots (Electric Wizard) here before, but Toronto’s Anglophile titans of “flute-tinged witch rock” (their own record label’s description) had never played a headline show in Bristol¬†until tonight. With four albums of consistently high quality under their collective belt, they’ve got no shortage of material to delight the eager congregation packed into the Louis. This being the last date of a club tour, they’re also tight and road-hardened, with increasingly confident flautist/keyboardist/vocalist/focal point Alia O’Brien giving it the full black-lipsticked Vampira.

Things get off to a slightly wobbly start, with her vocals lost in the mix and absent from the monitor sound, but the wyrd Wiccan Canucks recover their footing when Alia reaches for her flute and trills her way impressively through Goodbye Gemini. The Sabbath/Tull comparisons are obvious, and the band don’t seek to deny them, but there are other early ’70s prog influences at play here too. Intentional or otherwise, the keyboard-driven likes of Drawing Down the Moon are strongly reminiscent of vintage Atomic Rooster, with Alia conjuring the spirit of Vincent Crane. The epic Return to Forever (note to jazzers: nothing to do with Chick Corea) gives guitarist Sean Kennedy the chance to to shine in a showdown against Alia’s flute.

Bassist Lucas Gadke takes lead vocals on the folkiest song, Lord Summerisle, which wouldn’t disgrace the Wicker Man soundtrack. The first of two Somerset Maugham-referencing songs, stage fave Oliver Haddo is constructed upon one of Kennedy’s huge Iommi-esque riffs, while the title track from Lord of Misrule underlines Blood Ceremony’s penchant for Crowleyan mischief.

As so often with Louisiana gigs, the band don’t bother leaving the stage before the encore, because that would entail fighting their way through the rammed audience. So they just launch into I’m Coming With You from their 2008 debut. It’s as hugely enjoyable as ever, but also underlines just how far they’ve now moved on from such blatant appropriations from their chief influences’ songbooks. Then Haddo’s back for that devilishly dark bride of Beelzebub ditty, The Magician. It might have been a sultry summer’s evening in Bristol rather than a dark and stormy Sabbat at the Abbey of Thelema, but as Alia remarked earlier at the conclusion of a stonking Demon Brother: “We summoned him!”

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