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A Cave Full of Bats (1999)

Celestia was born from the would-be ashes of Seyiren, in 1995. The band's creator, Noktu, chose to split up the latter in favour of the former, yet one of the other members decided to carry it on for a few extra years. In the meantime, Celestia released several demos of varying quality. The style was something more convoluted that what most of the other French bands had done, prior to this. However, by 1999, Noktu has managed to put together the band's first proper release, through Drakkar Productions, entitled A Cave Full of Bats. Ignoring the fact that the cover image looks like it was stolen from the Bela Lugosi film, 'The Devil Bat', depicting a single giant bat in a laboratory (rather than an entire cave full of them), this E.P. is fairly decent. Celestia takes three songs from one of their demos and reworks them in a way that more fully capitalizes on the melancholic atmosphere of the compositions.

The first song is “A Dying Out Ecstasy”, which starts with a sombre bass line and sparse drums, before the first main riff emerges. The first thing one may notice is that the sound is a lot clearer than on the demo version, and the same applies to the other re-recorded songs. The listener is able to better appreciate each individual element on display here, particularly the bass, which adds another layer of gloom to the overall sound. The mournful guitar riffs are memorable and would not have been out of place on an old LLN release, though with more primitive execution. Noktu's vocals are also in line with the band's predecessors, possessing a lot of the same character. Though hateful and raspy, his voice does not capture the raw misery that is heard on the Mortifera debut. This track is rather repetitive, but does not wear out its welcome, in any way.

The next song is “A Silent Night in a Silent Castle”, which picks up the pace a bit and really demonstrates what the Black Legions might have sounded like with better production and more competent drummers. That said, the drumming is distracting, at times, doing a little more than is necessary. Still, the melancholic guitar melodies convey a sense of despair and sorrow, joined by the twisted misery of Noktu's voice. If only the percussion was a little lower in the mix, so as to place more emphasis on the guitars, the impact would be even stronger. By the middle of the song, things slow down for a bit, introducing a melody that sounds reminiscent of something from Katatonia's Brave Murder Day, though utilized differently. The effect is quite disturbing, imbuing the listener with an oppressive sense of anguish that seems as though it will persist, endlessly.

“The Forest Was A Neverending Place” picks up from where the previous song left off, moving forward at top speed, carried by dismal guitar riffs and Noktu's miserable voice. One has to wonder why he did not handle the vocal duties for Gestapo 666, being that his capabilities surpass those of the vocalists he has employed. This straightforward track is one of the best, and shortest, on this release. Despite its length, it makes just as much of an impression as the rest, if not moreso.

The final song is “Prisoner of a Morbid Cradle”, which is the longest track on A Cave Full of Bats, clocking in at over seven minutes. The atmosphere remains the same as before, though the melodic tendencies are even more on display. The keyboards make this one a bit less grim than the rest, as well as the arrangement of the guitar riffs and the overall vibe. This is not horrible, but it is kind of disappointing, when compared to the earlier tracks. After a brief quiet section in the middle, there is another memorable riff that is introduced, though it is drowned out by synth, as it progresses.

A Cave Full of Bats is a decent release and probably one of the few from Celestia that should be bothered with. While it does well to carry on some elements of the French black metal spirit, it fails to realize its potential and shows a handful of limitations, such as the reliance on synth and overuse of drumming, at various points. Despite this, the material is strong enough to warrant a positive recommendation.
(17 Apr. 2012)

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