When I saw this, Ebonillumini’s second album, pop up on my mail, I was rather surprised; the band’s name was totally unknown to me, while the (beautiful) cover art of the album had little in common with the average promo I receive. What grasped my attention was mainly the album’s tracklisting: each song’s title is followed by the name of a place (seaside or island), similarly to Death Karma’s debut. Several spins of the album later, I am rather happy with this detail’s effect on me, since “Arktos” is a quite strange and brilliant creation.
Ebonillumini is a UK based band, essentially a side-project of members of the more well-known Meads of Asphodel. “Arktos” is their second album, due to be released later this year. The band’s debut, “Pacificum”, was released in 2013, preceded by a demo and a split album with Worms of Sabnock. Roughly categorized as experimental/avant-garde black metal, the band does certainly have some elements reminiscent of Meads of Asphodel, namely, the mixing of hazy, expeditious moments, with some more extreme yet trippy black metal moments (which remind me of Borknagar more than anything else). The thing that makes the project’s music shine however is the voice of The Maiden(aka Christina Poupoutsi), which takes the lead role in here, unlike in Meads of Asphodel releases.
“Arktos”, just like “Pacificum”, appears to be sculpted around a geographic core trajectory, namely that of a voyage from Florida, through the Carribean, up to Greenland and Iceland, each of the ten songs narrating a story about its namesake station. Unfortunately the lyrics are not available up to the writing of the review, thus I cannot expand upon them.
The album’s music writhes with variety, each song trying to capture something of the spirit of its namesake place. The first four tracks, corresponding to warmer locales, are more ethereal, with mellower guitar sound, not hesitating, however, to quicken their tempo (for instance the amazing opener, “Coral Castle”), along with the inclusion of some background extreme vocals. While the 5 final tracks (the midway interlude “Dolphinius” not included) are somewhat more monolithic, doomy and grim, hypnotic one could say, though not avert to the ever-present melody. The guitars, are not omnipresent throughout the album; there are many moments in which they tend to recede, leaving to percussion, keyboards and vocals the task of creating the soundscapes. The absence of riffs per se in those moments is not bane to the listener’s interest (though some -few thankfully- roughly stoner-like moments can be considered as such a bane), especially when the rhythm rises to fast, blast-beat like furiousness. But fear not; the guitar is a solid ingredient throughout the album, each use well integrated; even the occasional solo is not of loquacious character. As for the slightly black metal riffing, it is diversely influenced; by Norwegian atmospheric, as well as by what is commonly termed as cascadian black metal. Some comparisons, apart from the black metal scene, for orientation’s sake, could be drawn with Meads of Asphodel (obviously), The Flight of Sleipnir, and some of the occult rock revival bands (mainly due to vocals). Even the art rock of mid-era Pink Floyd and scraps of 70’s Genesis can be found in this one. Finally, The Maiden’s voice is unarguably the album’s highlight. Her hue, reminiscent of a more erratic, (more mature and stoic even) Siouxsie, along with traces of the female epic (Lordian Guard), has quite a width of spectrum, and traces the narrative of the concept’s voyage in a spectacular way, managing to create a folk atmosphere throughout the record.
“Arktos” makes a grand entrance with “Coral Castle” (probably the album’s best song), and continues on its quest for the land beyond the ice. A rough diamond of an album, it is has more in kin with the avant-garde than experimental music, managing to convey its concept effortlessly. An album that blazes its path with an amazing frontwoman, standing on a multifaceted chariot. Towards Polaris.