The term virtual band dates all the way to the late 50’s with the appearance of Alvin and the Chipmunks, but the first band to actually make a more significant impact of that term was Gorillaz with their self-titled album from 2001. Five years later metal scene got its response to Gorillaz in form of Dethklok. As Dethklok retired in 2016 and Belzebubs, based on the comics of the same name, emerged two years later, many were left to wonder whether Belzebubs are a natural successor to Dethklok?
That could be true, not based only on similar virtual image of the band, but also on similarity by genre, since both bands play melodic death metal. The difference is that Belzebubs also incorporate elements of black metal and progressive metal into their music, while Dethklok plays a more straightforward type of melodic death metal. The other interesting fact about Belzebubs is that none of the members’ identities have yet been revealed, though one could be easily sorted out. And that one would be Niilo Sevänen of Insomnium. Why that assumption? Because his vocals are very unique and instantly recognizable, like the vocals of Tobias Forge from Ghost.
But vocals are not the only recognizable thing here, there is also the music. And what about the music? Well, the music has a very strong and specific Insomnium feel to it. As it could be heard on “Winter’s Gate” and some tracks from their previous albums, despite being a melodic death metal band in general, Insomnium are no strangers to black metal and they gladly incorporate elements of black metal into their music where suited, alongside elements of progressive and doom metal. But Insomnium is not the only band whose influence is felt on this album.
The first track on the album, “Cathedral of Mourning”, starts off with a mystical keyboard intro, before fast-paced tremolo riffs and blastbeats kick in. In that song first thing that comes to mind is Dimmu Borgir, but there also operatic backing vocals of Lindsay Schoolcraft from Cradle of Filth, which brings the aforementioned band to mind as well. Then we also have some Opeth influences in form of “The Crowned Daughters/Dark Mother” combination, because these two songs could easily be a one 15-minute song. The first of the two songs contains starts off with an acoustic passage, which later shifts into a mid-tempo heavy passage, later shifting back to a calmer acoustic passage with clean vocals, Last sections of the song are filled with heavier mid-tempo riffs accompanied by growled vocals. The second of the two songs is filled progressive blackened death riffs alongside ferocious drumming in its first half, culminating with a melodic guitar solo. As for its second half, it is way more mid-tempo and it mostly repeats the motives from the previous song, therefore these two songs form a one complete entity. Considering lengthier songs, we also have “Acheron” and the title track, “Pantheon of the Nightside Gods”. “Acheron” is mostly a mid-tempo song with some faster riffs. This could easily be an Insomnium song. The title track off with a keyboard intro followed by a riff very reminiscent of Insomnium’s “The River”. Afterwards there is a faster passage followed by a clean vocal passage, sung by none other than ICS Vortex of Arcturus and Borknagar, giving an epic feel to the song before it closes with an extensive keyboard outro.
Regarding other songs on the album, “Blackened Call” and “The Faustian Alchemist are way more straightforward and aggressive songs on the album, the latter of the two containing some progressive riffs. “The Werewolf Bride” ranges from faster to mid-tempo passages, making it more of a classical Insomnium song. And then there is “Nam Gloria Lucifer”, which comes closer to black metal than any other songs on this album. Filled with hateful and aggressive blackened/death riffs, this could easily be the best song on the album. On special editions of the album there are also “Nuns in the Purgatory” and “Maleficarum”, which are atmospheric keyboard instrumentals, which don’t add much to the album. Since “Cathedrals of Mourning” has a longer keyboard intro and the title track has a longer keyboard outro, these tracks would be recommended only for completionists. As for others, regular version of the album should do just fine.
Overall, “Pantheon of the Nightside Gods” is a very good album and a great start for Belzebubs. Because of the name Insomnium being mentioned a lot throughout this review, the question is whether this would have worked as an Insomnium album? Well, it could have, but I think it is better off this way. Because some of the songs, especially the lengthier ones, do not sit very well after the first listening. There is also a problem with a longer keyboard section in case of the title track, as well as some rehashed ideas. Taking these factors into consideration, if this would’ve been released as an Insomnium album, some fans might’ve felt slightly disappointed. With that in mind, this album could serve as a great appetizer, while we impatiently wait for a new Insomnium record to come out.