2015 – The Good Albums (21-40)

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An alphabetically sorted list of 2015 albums that did not quite make it to the top-20, yet are just a step below. I found that ranking them was time-consuming and non-essential, since the difference in quality between them was almost non-existent, hence the alphabetic hierarchy.

A Forest Of Stars – Beware The Sword You Cannot See

In their fourth album, the British avant-garde band continue their exploration of atmospheric and narrative aspects of metal, distancing themselves even more from traditional black metal, yet managing to maintain a high level of quality, just a step down in comparison to their first three masterpieces. Full review here.

 

Akhlys – The Dreaming I

Nightbinger’s Naas Alcameth delivered with his side project’s sophomore album a frigidly thin, ambient-like black metal, with abstract structure, that conjures almost effortlessly a spectral soundscape of the night void. A fine species of hypnotic dark music. Full review here.

 

Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of Witches

Well, this one is the first more-than-decent album of CoF in more than 10 years, so it must be mentioned. They have finally managed to pull off some excellent riffs, that though they are well below the masterpiece level of the 90’s, are an oasis for those who have silently been following them all these years.

 

Délétère – Les heures de la Peste
https://youtu.be/Bo_VdeTYxOA
Quebec is bound to appear once or more times in my end-year lists. Délétère, after 2 promising demos released their debut, which stands steadily upon the Quebecois sub-genre, yet manages to instil a dark sense of occult upon it, mainly through the lo-fi, fluctuating production, which results in eeriness aplenty. Full review here.

Diabolicum – IA Pazuzu

The return of the industrial/clinical black metal Swedes was triumphant, creating an album that was based on the fantastic “The Grandeur Of Hell”, sporting a degree of variety that was unexpected and more than welcome. Full review here.

 

Drowning the Light – From the Abyss

From the Australians with the huge discography, came one of 2015’s most pluralistic takes on the early Norwegian sound, full of devotion to early Emperor, Gehenna, and all the atmospheric sub-genre in particular. If only its duration was somewhat shorter, it could well climb pretty high. Full review here.

Ethereal Shroud – They became the falling Ash

A UK black metal band is always welcome in end-year-lists, especially if it plays a sort of atmospheric BM that manages to create magnificent vistas of the dark side of nature. A mix of Summoning and Paysage D’Hiver would be the right decription.

Grafvitnir – Necrosophia

This is a last minute entry (figuratively speaking), that is bound to bring smiles to all old-Dissection fans. Excellent songwriting, close to the spirit of Nödtveidt’s band (meaning well-structured and flowing riffs), “Necrosophia” showcases a band that may not be the most original, yet manages to convey the 90’s occult spirit, along with blazing compositions.

Haukruunu – Havulinnaan

Epic black metal, drawing from epic-era Bathory (just listen to “Kuvastaja”), crossovering it with Scandinavian black metal riffing of a frosty nature. Nature- and past-worshiping, this is pagan black metal of raw elegance.

 

Malokarpatan – Stridžie Dni

Certain albums can fix your interest and positively bias you even before you listen them. That’s the case with those Slovakians and their debut, which is graced with an outstanding (and unusual, as far as black metal art goes) cover art, and a folklore lyrical content. Their style is an amalgam of Venom and Negative Plane, with much rawer production than either of these bands. If one, however, manages to dive under the murky surface, one can discover a multitude of excellent ideas accompanying the telling of dark tales from the Slovakian countryside.

Mgla – Exercises In Futility

The Polish masters’ third album was received with high acclaim almost universally, and though I tend to find it a bit predictable, and simplistic, riff-wise, it remains a release with high quality, and some of the best melodic riffs one can listen to in 2015. Full review here.

 

Nahtrunar – Symbolismus

It takes a lot of courage to kick off your album with “En Vind Av Sorg’s” riff, and not sound like a Darkthrone copy, yet these Austrians somehow manage it. Coming with an innate sense of romantic melody, this one is a prime example of black metal soundscaping.

 

Nechochwen – Heart Of Akamon

This was quite a surprise. The project of one of
Obsequiae’s members, this is epic black metal done rightly, in the vein of Falkenbach or early Solstafir. It would be higher, if not for the odd (early) Opeth influence, that mellows down the overall image. Nonetheless, an excellent album.

Nettlecarrier – Black Coffin Rites
https://youtu.be/nLpGXfRFPaQ
Nettlecarrier’s sophomore album follows on the tradition of the debut as one of the best examples of second-wave black metal of nowadays. Darjthrone and Gorgoroth worship of the highest qualitative caliber. Full review here.

Obsequiae – Aria of Vernal Tombs

The US riff-masters (with a deeply folk soul) returned after 4 years, with an album that follows upon the tradition of the amazing debut, is somewhat mellower, yet retains all the distinctive elements of the band, especially the excellent riffing.

 

Outre – Ghost Chants

One of the few examples of really interesting and refreshing orthodox black metal nowadays, this album a somewhat traditional mindset into Deathspell Omega sound, accompanied by some of the best vocals that one can hear nowadays. Full review here.

 

Revenge – Behold.Total.Rejection

Outstanding Grind.Noise.Black_Death_Terror from the Canadian masters of extremity, which (at least in my ears) have long surpassed their legendary compatriots (Blasphemy and Conqueror). A beast of an album, that emits uncontrolled sonic chaos.

 

Sacral Rage – Illusions In Infinite Void

US power metal, with a bit of Watchtower weirdness thrown in is definitely my cup of tea. I had high expectations from this album, and the Greek band did not disappoint me, though a fluctuation of quality throughout the album is evident. Nevertheless, a grand debut, and my radar is definitely on them and their sophomore attempt.

 

Saligia – Fønix

This one was startling, in a good way. From the traditional second-wave black metal of their debut, Saligia turn to a more earthly disposition, somewhat doomier, somewhat crunchier, with a hint of epicness in the clean vocals.

 

Serpent Noir – Erotomysticism

A surprising turn of sonic direction for this Greek band, which slow down their black metal, imbuing it with psychedelic elements, yet retaining a deep sense of the occult, as well as the quality that permeated their debut.

 

Visigoth – The Revenant King

This one boasts some of the best songs of this year, with “Dungeon Master” being right on the top, but the bit of a groovy edge spoils the fun for some of us. A solid example of traditional epic metal, nevertheless.

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2015 – Demo, EP, and Split releases Top-10

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Manii – Skuggeheimen

This one is “outside” the list, since it does not contain any new material, but rather just a re-recording of two tracks from the second and third Manes demos (for those not familiar with Manii, they are -since 2011- the old-school aspect of Manes), which are however still throbbing with perfection. Less eerie, the guitar perhaps a tad more highlighted than in the original versions, yet carrying this unearthly wind that is associated with Manes’ demo years.

10. Nécropole – Ostara (Demo)

A French trio delivering old-school black metal via the Finnish vein (namely the Sargeist, Satanic Warmaster style – melodic guitars sprinkled with a bit of fuzziness in the production, into a channel of passionate impetuosity), in this, their second demo. Not much diversity mood-wise, this is a monolithic cascade streaming rapidly through frozen landscapes.

9. Ithaqua – Initiation To Obscure Mysteries (Demo)

A demo release writhing with nostalgia for the early Greek black metal scene. Perhaps a bit lacking in the originality department, though I suspect that this was something done on purpose. Old Rotting Christ (“Passage To Arcturo” era) worship more or less. Highly enjoyable. Full review here.

8. Loputon Suo – S-T (Demo)

An essentially melodic black metal discographic debut for those Finns, though the somewhat raw production may well obfuscate the fact upon first listen. The guitar ideas in this short (exactly 12 minutes) demo are quite memorable, reminiscent of the flawing, mountainous mentality of both Bolzer and The Ruins of Beverast; dark majesty sums it up quite nicely as far as terms are considered.

7. Cosmic Church – Vigilia (EP)

The Finnish masters of atmospheric, landscape-y black metal returned this year with both a 3-way split (“Beyond The Mirror Of Worlds” with Blood Red Fog and Shroud of Satan) and the “Vigilia” ep. In the 33 minutes of this release, Luxixul Sumering Auter, the single member behind the band, offers us another dose of well-played and compositionally-fluent long-winded black metal, able to create a masterful degree of atmosphere, with a pinch of folk melodies embedded in some of the riffs.

6. Gatekeeper/Eternal Champion – Retaliator/Vigilance (Split)

Shifting of focus with this one, from black to epic metal. Both Gatekeeper and Eternal Champion are among the best new underground bands of the genre, and this collaboration between them is an exemplar gem. The release brings together more or less all of the bands’ past material, and showcases the grandeur of both. Mandatory for all epic/doom metal fans.

5. Grimoire – L’Aorasie des Spectres Reveurs (EP)

One-man black metal band from Quebec. It is not overtly difficult to take a correct guess as to Grimoire’s style; atmospheric (in a nostalgic, crave-for-past-glories way) black metal, with a furious edge, graced with excellent guitar riffing (simple yet highly effective in conjuring pure epicness), sparse use of beautiful keyboards, and above all a highly evocative mythical atmosphere. The vocals are more or less of the typical black metal variety, quite passionate, but where they truly shine is when they go for a clean, desperate and hugely epic hue, as in the ending of “Tragedie des Ombres”. Just under 25 minutes, this EP is pure gold, highly recommended for fans of Forteresse and Ephemer, but also for anyone into quality atmospheric black metal.

4. Spectral Lore – Gnosis (EP)

The single best Greek black metal band of our times returned this year with 2 lengthy ep’s (at least – supposedly there would also be a third one before the year’s end, though it seems unlikely now). And while in “Voyager” Ayloss took a deep dive in the space ambient/electronics genre, in “Gnosis” he returns on more traditional (a.k.a. Metal) forms, through which he tries to create an image of oriental music as it lies in his mind’s eye. The result is a 50-minutes long EP, that bears the distinctive Spectral Lore multi-layered guitar mentality, infuses the whole with certain oriental/Greek melodic parts, conjuring up an archaic atmosphere of historical hue (instead of the almost atemporal majesty of his past albums). By far the most complex and grand in scope release of the list.

3. Black Sword Thunder Attack – Promo

While chasing the phantom of the full-length album (which was to be released in this year, but was sadly delayed for an unspecified amount of time), this promo’s six minutes can showcase the pure epic genius of this Greek band, which draws deeply from the well of Lordian Guard (no only as far as the amazingly epic female vocals are concerned), infusing it with a bit of solid galloping. Their album-to-come is one of my most anticipated things for 2016 (hopefully). (It seems that there is no youtube or bandcamp version, so the link concerns their 2013 demo, whose first track appears also in the promo)

2. Belketre – Ryan Èvn-a (EP)

The return of one of Les Legions Noires members in 2015 was an unexpected event. The fact that the accompanying release, the “Ryan Èvn-a” EP, was an intriguing masterpiece of raw, agile, guitar-based black metal of grotesque production (the sound layers are bizarrely engineered, in a completely unorthodox way) was a most positive surprise. Not much to be said here, this is one of the most original releases of this year. The production may well dissuade a portion of the audience, but for me this, along with the guitar parts, is “Ryan evn-a’s” true advantage.

1. Necromancy – Ancient Wrath (EP)

Necromancy, essentially Necromantia’s earliest facet, are back after more than 25 years, with an ep containing 3 tracks steeped in the early Greek scene’s darkest majesty, reminding us why early Necromantia were among the darkest sounding bands of all time. For more check this amazing review (in Greek).

 

 

Panphage – Storm (2015) review

panphage

There may be no moment more glorious in black metal than when the underground shines with blazing inspiration. Panphage, a one-man band from Sweden, was a completely unknown to me entity before this summer, when I was introduced by a friend to their “Ursvöl” demo, a raw exemplar of 90’s Scandinavian black metal riffing with a pinch of folk embedded in guitar-parts structure, ending up as a beautiful descendant of the pagan spirit of the once-mighty Norwegian scene. This year’s “Storm” is the debut album of the band, released in this spectacular cassette edition (see it here) via Ætergap Productions. As was apparent from their numerous (6) quality demo releases (“Ætt Loka” & “Ursvöl” being their crowning achievements) Panphage is not a one-hit wonder, and “Storm” showcases it in an excellent way.

As in most genres, there is a multitude of multi-polar divisions inside black metal, some of them quite evident and embraced as a system of classification by many a listener (the naive “raw versus atmospheric” categorization being a prime example), others being less apparent/adopted. One such broad bipolar division, probably apparent to most of the audience, yet not so widely referenced, is a difference in guitar mentality: flexible and agile guitar riffing versus a more monolithic use of the instrument as a wall of atmosphere, not unlike the post-rock example. While both categories have more than adequate specimens, I have a preference for agile, front-line riffing, and “Storm” is a more than welcome contemporary example of it. Even in the 2 out of the 3 instrumental tracks of the release, one’s interest is immediately hooked up by the procession of and exchange between acoustic and slightly distorted folk motifs (the third one, the closing “Fenomen” is an eerie keyboard based anthem, reminiscent of Vemod). The remaining 5 songs are each based upon a simple yet elegant guitar idea, steeped in the folk spirit, highly melodic, yet never straying from black metal aesthetics. What Taake once did with “Nattestid..” and Ulver with “Bergtatt..” finds here its logical descendant. Pompous, atmospheric even in its grooviest moments (as in certain parts of “Hemmavid” which have a tendency for thrashing versality), with a mix of melodic and rawer-yet-essentially-clean vocals, “Storm” is highly passionate. Also of note, production-wise the band has improved, discarding a measure of the demo “underground” fuzziness in favour of a clarity of just the right quantity. But it all comes down to this amazing mixture of folk ideas in highly active riffing, which was and still is the hands-down best way of creating the kind of northern majestic atmosphere that part of black metal is all about.

Storm” is the last link on a chain containing masterpieces as “Nattestid..” and “Bergtatt..”, Borknagar’s debut, Kampfar’s 2 first opuses, certain Isengard and Storm (the band) moments, and some less well-known recordings, as Bethel’s “Northern Supremacy”; if it was released during the 90’s, «Storm» would be considered a classic. More importantly for now, it is proof of this subgenre’s contemporary existence. Swedish underground is during the past few years the single best place for black metal traditionalists to turn their attention to. Total support for this band (check also their “Gøthalandom” split with Jarnvidr which was released this summer).

Volahn/Shataan/Arizmenda/Kallathon – Desert Dances & Serpent Sermons

desertdances

Crepusculo Negro is a label that I have been stalking for some years now, and one I am particularly fond of (as was evident in my last year’s list, including both Volahn and Arizmenda’s full-lengths), both due to the quality of its bands, as well as the existence of a unified artistic and spiritual concept among its members, solidified in the Black Twilight Circle. Though not much is clear about the content of this concept, one can be certain of a certain mythological fascination with pre-hispanic Central American civilizations (members appear to be of Mexican-American descend, and strongly influenced by the Mexican legends Xibalba), as the main person behind the Circle has stated. I am quite positive inclined towards black metal becoming occasionally an artistic medium for expression of minorities’ cultural needs, as is the case in this particular case.

In contrast to last year’s rich production, in 2015 the label released only one new album, namely a 4-way split between Volahn, Shataan, Arizmenda and Kallathon, by the descriptive (and quite evocative) name of “Desert Dances & Serpent Sermons”, an album that effortlessly coils its way to the top positions of this year’s black metal production, among sand clouds and black wings.

Volahn kick off the album with the eleven minute opus “Chamalcan”, whose intro and outro can very well disorient; surf-like reverb, a galloping reminiscent of spaghetti-western film music (it was quite a shock upon first listen), before the main part of the track kicks off in well-known (for Volahn fans at least) territory. This means multiple, thin guitar layers, overlapping in an almost ethereal way during the most exhilarating and mystical moments, remaining always in ecstatic motion, sometimes resembling long-winded solos. A comparison with the finest specimens of Les Legions Noires would not be amiss. With a slightly cleaner sound than in their previous releases, a thing suiting well the somewhat travelogue-ish nature of this song (it being a prime guide through the exotic desert concept nature of the release), Volahn once more live up to the high expectations.

Shataan is one of the less well known BTC bands, with only a demo release, 2011’s “War Cry Lament”, to exhibit before this participation. In “Caminando Del Destino / Desert Smoke / Wells Run Dry” we are presented with a 3-part eleven minuter, which introduces us to some “Drawing Down The Moon-” jungle sonicscapes, traversed by a slightly epic acoustic guitar, before it rises itself to a somewhat dissonant, especially vocal-wise, middle part, which nevertheless manages to be highly addictive; the guitars, as in most of the BTC releases, are a feast for sore ears – in this particular occasion they are quite clear, serpentine in quickness of motion. The clean, somewhat punkish vocals may well be dissonant, but they have an innate sense of melody, especially on the last part, which manages to guide them triumphantly through the hazy landscape. All in all a song of mischievous and slightly ironic character, which builds up with time and with repetition.

Arizmenda may well be the darkest and rawest of the label/circle’s bands, a thing widely apparent in last year’s “Stillbirth In The Temple Of Venus”, which was a spectral descent to dungeon schizophrenia. The intro of “Ropeburn Mutilation On The Outskirts Of Life”, the band’s contribution to the split, works well towards supporting the aforementioned Arizmenda characteristic: a children choir performing a somewhat nursery song along slightly discernible chilling keyboards. In the track per se, all known Arizmenda elements can be discerned; ghastly drawn-out vocals, coming behind a hazy curtain of distance; tempo changes sliding from torturous mid-tempo with no apparent direction, to swirling torrential speeds, with guitar riffs (and even the hint of a solo) floating just above the surface of an all-consuming abyss. What differentiates this track from its predecessors is mostly the better production, as well as an essence of atmospheric phantasmagoria, which oddly brought to my mind early Limbonic Art. This may well be the most complex of the split’s four tracks, though it is slightly amiss as far as the conceptual cohesion with the other three is concerned – it is the most traditionally black metal one.

Kallathon, as is also the case with Shataan, is one of the lesser known bands of the circle, boasting just one demo and 2 split releases. Their contribution to the release, “Falling Into The Horizon, Burning Into The Black Twilight” is the longest of the whole bunch, clocking something above 13 minutes. The quite large intro, brings the listener back to the sun-bleached cowboy lands of the first track, steadily building a path towards the main song, which is the most monolithic of the 4, both direction- and riff-wise (though it closes with a solo of excellent taste). Two main tempos pace back and forth, marching mid-tempo giving way to bursts of blastbeats and then resuming with much directness (not succumbing though to inertia). There is large scale echo use in the slightly growling vocals (more towards the clean end of the spectrum), which along with the marching rhythm grace the song with a somewhat epic hue. A worthy closing anthem.

A non-conformist black metal release one could say, both musically (the surf/western parts can drive away black metal purists) and conceptually (as is evident from the somewhat alien to the scene aesthetics of Black Twilight Circle), it also happens to be one of the best albums that have surfaced from this year’s underground vaults. The closing lyrics of “Falling Into The Horizon, Burning Into The Black Twilight” are the most fitting closing line:

Leave the tracks behind as a reflection of
our journey
Let only the winds erase our trace but,
let them carry our name
Like the star that burns above, so does our spirit
to carry on our song”

Four from this year’s Crypt

Grimoire – L’ Aorasie des Spectres Reveurs ep

grimoire

One-man black metal band from Quebec. It is not overtly difficult to take a correct guess as to Grimoire’s style; atmospheric (in a nostalgic, crave-for-past-glories way) black metal, with a furious edge, graced with excellent guitar riffing (simple yet highly effective in conjuring pure epicness), sparse use of beautiful keyboards, and above all a highly evocative mythical atmosphere. The vocals are more or less of the typical black metal variety, quite passionate, but where they truly shine is when they go for a clean, desperate and hugely epic hue, as in the ending of “Tragedie des Ombres”. Just under 25 minutes, this ep is pure gold, highly recommended for fans of Forteresse and Ephemer, but also for anyone into quality atmospheric black metal.

Heathen – Heathen

heathen

Being the first of 4 full-lengths released by this obscure band in 2015 (up to now), all of them named “Heathen”, all of them sporting pre-Raphaelite paintings for covers, all of them released exclusively in tape format. The album in question, released in January, is among the black metal releases (there are also ambient works) of Heathen , and is also the only one that can be found in its entirety online. Here one can listen to mainly early-Burzum-influenced black metal, instrumental in its entirety, with discreet keyboard-aided atmosphere thrown in between. Production-wise the album stirs slightly towards the lo-fi end of the spectrum, though not in an obtrusive way. What really shines in here is the riff quality, which is well above the average. Fans of early 90’s black metal should definitely give it a listen.

Misþyrming – Söngvar elds og óreiðu

myspyr

Both Iceland (the band’s homeland) and Fallen Empire (the band’s vinyl label) are sectors towards which I turn my radar frequently. Already introduced to Misþyrming via last year’s Fallen Empire compilation, I looked forward to their debut, which rewarded my anticipation. Noxious, maelstromic black metal, which draws upon the darkest side of the orthodox genre (Svartidaudi, Numinous), and wanders through subterranean passages with majestic skill. Top-notch riffing, suffocating atmosphere, and vocals full of command; the necrotic spirit of black metal breathes mightily in here. Another masterpiece from Iceland, following on the tradition of Wormlust, Sinmara and Svartidaudi.

Nocternity – Harps of the Ancient Temples

nocternity

This one we’ve been waiting for ages. 12 years after the amazing “Onyx”, Nocternity’s third full-length comes finally into light. Taking a different approach, more hypnotic and subdued (not in a bad way), without moments of elation, “Harps of the Ancient Temples” showcases a band that has matured in an elegant way. Mesmerizing mid-tempo black metal of refreshing clarity and originality. If one searches for influences, he may well stumble into the middle tracks of “Hvis Lysset Tar Oss” and the gloomiest parts of “Filosofem”, as well as the more shadowy parts of “Thorns”, all filtered through Khal Drogo’s personal mark. Minimalistic in many ways, Nocternity’s new opus is an album that breezes, not blasts, its path through the listener without much effort, without climaxes, and ends up winning you all the way.

Macabre Omen – Gods of War, at War review

macabre

How does one listen to epic metal? (I limit the question’s scope only on epic metal, since the album in question is a prime example of this sound) With this question, I mean, on what level of immersion inside an album’s concept (including music, lyrics, aesthetics), has one to descend, in order to fully enjoy and experience the album in question? Is just the music, sans lyrics and aesthetics, enough for one to say that he has grasped an epic metal album’s spirit? I seriously doubt that, at least judging from my experience. What would “Hammerheart” be without the Viking lyrics, without Dicksee’s painting, with only the band showing in spikes and leather in “One Rode to Asa Bay’s” video, instead of the visual masterpiece that it is? What if Manilla Road wrote about contemporary Wichita instead of “Necropolis”? Epic metal (as well as black metal, two genres that are not that much apart aesthetically in my mind) is for me, first and foremost, a womb of imaginary thoughtscapes and emotionscapes, which are inextricably tied to an imaginary past, its setting real or fictious, expressed through music, aesthetics, and lyrics. This past’s idealized image usually excites me, creating illogical nostalgic and stimulating emotions within me, illogical because they are focused towards something non-existent, something which only indirectly I have come in contact with. The thing is, that this idealized image (that I tend to crave, due to its emotional effects), if it is concerned with a real-world past, sometimes is not far from the idealized image that has been used by nationalistic movements inside the country in question. I tend to keep the image inside me, for emotional consumption, and actively try to leave it out of my political thinking and attitude, without saying that its effect is non-existent.

This prologue has to do with my response towards Macabre Omen’s sophomore album’s tracklisting; when it was revealed, 2 song titles stood out, causing a certain degree of discomfort upon me: “Man of 300 Voices”, and “Hellenes Do Not Fight Like Heroes, Heroes Fight Like Hellenes” (which also happens to be the album’s best track for me – quite awkward). They both carry a nationalistic vibe, since certain events of (and myths about) Greek history have become a banner under which nationalistic movements have mustered, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party being a contemporary example. A song’s title is quite an important trait of it, close in importance for me to the lyrics itself, since it is the song’s facade, so the bitter taste of these song titles is not going anywhere. Since, however, I have the uttermost respect about Alexandros’ works, both with Macabre Omen and The One, I was not much thwarted by this discomfort, but neither did I left it to dissipate, choosing instead to also check the album’s lyrics, which as a whole are of a high quality. But there are certain phrases that I found to be part of a nationalistic narrative, namely the ones about “worthless, barbaric lives” (in both of the two aforementioned songs), referring to the Persian armies. One could argue about the historical validity(?) of those terms, but the fact is that they could well be avoided. On the other hand, “Alexandros Ode A&B” lyrics are of a postmortem Achillean mindset; that is, doubt about ideals and longing for the lost life of a youth – quite excellent in fact. On the rest of the album, past and sea intertwine in a more than satisfying manner, while the deeply emotional “From Son to Father” contains a poem of Alexandros’ father.

Moving onwards now, the album as a whole is amazing. It seemed quite hard a feat the surpassing of an album as good as “The Ancient Returns”, but Macabre Omen’s second opus is better from every aspect, a monument of this decade’s (at the very least) epic metal. There are very few artists that have managed to distil Quorthon’s epic sound in their own music successfully, and among them only a minority has managed to truly create an innovative work of art based not on Bathory albums’ music but on their spirit. Apart from this album, I can only think of Scald’s “Will of Gods is a Great Power” as an example of such a magnificent work.

What Alexandros has managed to create in this album is the admixture of the grandiosity of Hammerheart-era Bathory (another similarity between the two albums is the Sea opening: “I see the Sea” is the opening track’s title, just like “Shores in Flames” opened Quorthon’s masterpiece), of Scandinavian black metal ferocity (the opening riff of “Gods of War” is pure “Transilvanian Hunger” worship), and of Greek folk music melody (especially island-ish folk), which is is revealed as an extremely effective medium of the Epic. The alternation of the last two components is amazing, creating a monumental atmosphere, that appears ominous as well archaic. An alteration that does not stop only here, but is extended on to the vocals, which are quite varied; from Burzum-like howls (“Athens is on fire!”), to deep, imposing (a la Hate Forest, in a manner), booming recitations, to highly emotional beautiful melodic clean singing, and battle hymnal screams. I said that “Hellenes Do Not Fight Like Heroes, Heroes Fight Like Hellenes” is my awkwardly favourite track of the album, and in this, one can hear all the aforementioned variety. Many of the folkish guitars are recycled throughout the album, not due to lack of ideas, but in order to emphasize the atmosphere and concept nature of the whole album.

Beyond Alexandros, T. J. F. Vallely (of Lychgate) appears as a band member (drums and all other percussion things), while there are guest appearances from Gothmog (Thou Art Lord), Greg Chandler (Lychgate), and Nocternity’s great Khal Drogo. The first two provide additional vocals on certain tracks, while Khal Drogo has recorded guitar solos for the first two tracks. The album’s production is flawless, both the guitars and vocals being on just the right level of volume and clarity, while percussion is oscillating in voluminous presence, depending on the tracks’ necessities.

Not only there is not a filler to be found in the album, but it is almost impossible to find the album’s weak moment; here is magnificence extraordinaire. Clocking just above 60 minutes, its duration is almost non-perceptible. I could go on praising the album track-by-track, but this is beyond the point. Just visit the band’s bandcamp and listen to one of the best albums of the decade.

Highlights: Everything

Check Also: Bathory – “Hammerheart”, Scald – “Will of Gods is a Great Power”, Atlantean Kodex – “The White Godess”

Ebonillumini – Arktos

ebonillumini_front_1500px

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.