Portrait Of Hell

Great depressing doom drone from TenHornedBeast with their album The Lamp Of No Light (COLD SPRING RECORDS CSR312CD). This is the project of Christopher Walton who’s been active in industrial music for about 30 years. You may recall his last record Death Has No Companion which we noted in early 2018, which proposed “wandering” as a profound metaphor for the futility of life – no matter where we roam, or what we do, we’re all on a road to oblivion was the main takeaway from that misery-fest.

Today he goes even further and suggests we shouldn’t even bother with wandering around – just climb into a tomb, lie down, don’t move, and have done with everything. In fact that’s just what he did himself. Well, not really, but the starting point for his inspiration is an actual 12th century Christian artefact called the Doomstone, which can be seen in the crypt at York Minster. As far as we know it wasn’t actually part of a burial chamber, but the mere fact of its location in the crypt is more than enough to set fevered minds a-racing. That, and the florid imagery that’s carved into that stone; it’s pretty much a single image of Hell, depicted as a gigantic cauldron, into which souls are being cast by triumphant demons; flames lick the side of the cauldron, said flames also being used to torment other damned souls. Somewhere above the cauldron are figures symbolising vanity or luxury, and avarice; it’s plain that their worldly goods and vanities will serve them naught in the Hell which is to come.

TenHornedBeast uses his album to tell a story inspired by this scene, but evidently what interests him most is the pain and torment of Hell, as he lingers over the punishments as if they were some form of torture porn, and emphasises the utter futility of everything with his claustrophobic, harrowing music. The original Doomstone could be said to contain a message of Christian Hope, or at least a morality tale, pointing to two of the Seven Deadly Sins to inform the congregation that there’s still a chance of redemption; however, Walton’s not having any of that, and for him it’s full-on doom all the way. Even the structure of the work, beginning and ending with tunes about death, confirms that he wishes the human race would die twice over, the better to savour the painful sufferings that await us in Hell for all eternity. All this said, there’s still an aesthetic charm and cold beauty to be found in these glacial drones and slow-moving torrents of distorted filth, occasionally punctuated with distant percussive noises that might be the sound of the Gates Of Hell closing forever, or perhaps demons rapping the cauldron with their tridents and daggers. In places, TenHornedBeast’s work is quite distinct from much doomy Dark Ambient or Dungeon Black Metal, or other genres which you might wish to align it with; he has a rare delicacy of touch and subtlety in his layered mixes that a lot of musicians would do well to study.

Photos of the Doomstone taken by Walton are found on five panels of the six-panel digipak. From 16 May 2022.