First things first: all of you unfamiliar with Fallen Empire Record‘s “MDF XII” compilation, visit this link and download it. Though it (obviously) acts as the company’s promo, the quality of these seven tracks is unquestionable. Following on the tradition of the SVN OKKVLT compilations (here and here), this is one release that embraces some of the finest contemporary species of the BM genre around the globe. Among those 7 hymns one could find Hæthen‘s “In absence of the Eternal”, a masterpiece of epic, sylvan black metal. Thus it was that “Shaped By Aeolian Winds” came to be one of my most anticipated albums, along with Misþyrming‘s “Söngvar elds og óreiðu”. The bandcamp’s release date kept changing, until it became apparent that the album would not be released in 2014, the date finally stabilizing on February 7th.
The American band’s only other release is the 2009 “Wanderer” demo (the 3 group members also had another band before, by the name of Opus Dei, which was essentially transformed into Hæthen), a mix of early Aeternus and Emperor, bent on creating raging-yet-epic atmosphere. A solid debut release, which was nevertheless plagued by some clumsy lead guitar work, especially on the solo-esque attempts of the 2nd track, and weak production. Last year’s aforementioned “In absence of the Eternal” track, presented us with a band improved on the sound and composition departments, but above all able to create sonic plateaus of majestic scope.
“Shaped By Aeolian Winds” is adorned by what will probably be my favourite cover art of 2015; a portal into an ancient forest, masterfully rendered in an archaic fashion, surrounded by faces of unfathomable and disturbing character. Arthur Machen would be proud, especially of the LP version.
Moving on to the album’s music. 9 tracks, spanning just over 55 minutes, building upon the foundations set by their demo. Grandiose black metal, with a heavy emphasis on the Scandinavian naturalistic scene (yet not totally denying their country of origin), sculpted by a constant state of dialogue between the 2 guitars. There are riffs aplenty in here, extensive in nature, which tend to branch out in order to create a sylvan panorama, an imaginative forest of primitive character. Paganism, or rather animism/shamanism, is strongly apparent in this record(a fact reinforced by the lyrics), while a comparison to Blut Aus Nord’s first “Memoria Vetusta” would not be arbitrary. The album’s drums are discreet, rising above their station during some stormy, raging moments, in which they seem to invoke chaos deities. On a side note, vocals have shed some of the demo’s diversity, being limited to a streamlined black metal “narrative” style, somewhat blurry in their utterance, but nevertheless shining with passion. Finally, there are a few folk-ish moments scattered in the album, the most obvious being the starting part of “Captured within the Annulus”.
Was “Shaped By Aeolian Winds” worth the wait? For me the answer is definitely positive. The Pennsylvanians have offered a record of ingenious pagan/nature-worshiping metal, close to the spirit of Kampfar and early Enslaved, allowing us to trek tirelessly through 55 minutes of true black metal art. Embracing melody in a satisfying way, the album seems like a force of nature, imperious in its path through a Northern Forest. Highly recommended for those seeking atmospheric (in the early 90’s sense) black metal, capable of evoking soundscapes of natural power.
Highlights: In absence of the Eternal, Taking the Auspices, Spiritrise