Erevos – Descensus Ad Inferos (30 September 2011, Orkestral Promenade Records)
I don’t know what’s in the water in the Greek region of Macedonia. Maybe there’s some kind of magic in the Termaic Gulf or the nearby Haliacmon River or something. Whatever it is, it’s obviously had a strong effect on the musicians of that area, as evidenced by the fact that today I’m going to tell you about not one, but two incredible debut albums, from a pair of bands who both come from the Central Macedonian capital (and second-largest city in Greece), Thessaloniki. The second one, about Hail Spirit Noir‘s Pneuma, can be found over here, but first I’d like to introduce you to Erevos.
Erevos (έρεβος in Greek, or translated into English as Erebus) literally means darkness; in the story of Creation, Erebus was one of the primordial Greek deities which originally came forth from Chaos, wherein he was the incarnation of darkness and night. The name also refers to a place of darkness beneath the earth, which some say indicates the eternal home of sinners after death, while others identify it with an area through which the dead pass between earth and Hades.
Erevos is also the name of a symphonic black metal band who have been around since 2004, having released a couple demos and some split releases since that time, in addition to touring all over Greece and other parts of Europe, including Bulgaria and France. In early 2011 they finished recording their debut full-length, Descensus Ad Inferos, and then in September it saw a limited release in their home country through the Orkestral Promenade Records label. The album met with much acclaim from those who were lucky enough to hear it the first time around, so in cooperation with Clawhammer PR, they’re now pushing to spread the word about this excellently composed sonic poetry worldwide. And, well, spreading the word is what I’m here for.
Descensus Ad Inferos is, in the most literal sense, a recreation of Dante‘s famous adventure through The Inferno, in the form of a symphonic black metal album. The title itself, in fact, comes from the Latin phrase for “The Descent into Hell.” Like the famous epic poem, this album takes the listener down into the underworld for a grand tour of the places and creatures to be found there, and then back out at the end (although perhaps with a drastically altered world-view by this point). To be perfectly honest, I think I derived almost as much enjoyment from researching some of the references as I did from listening to the music itself; before, I was probably familiar with only about half of the characters — deities and monsters — named here, and I found the process of learning about the ones who were new to me quite fascinating.
Furthermore, I need to acknowledge that the word “symphonic” is often overused when describing metal music, as it is commonly applied to music that includes any sort of orchestral instrumentation as an accompaniment. In this particular case, though, I intend the term to be interpreted in a much more literal sense: while nonstandard in that it is composed of ten separate pieces, this entire album nonetheless comprises an actual symphonic work; more specifically, I see it as programme music (along the lines of Beethoven‘s Sixth “Pastoral” Symphony or Berlioz‘ “Symphonie Fantastique”) in that the music illustrates a specific narrative tale.
The voyage begins with “Adou Katavasis” (αδου καταβασις), which roughly translates as “Hell Catabasis.” A catabasis literally refers to travelling down toward the coast, or more generally, a retreat, or any movement downward; in context here, the phrase becomes the Greek equivalent of the album’s Latin title, again referring to “The Descent into Hell.”
Coming back to the classification of this album as a proper symphony, this introductory piece is constructed, as are most symphonies’ first movements, in sonata form. While there are some strings and other orchestral instruments behind the black metal arrangement, throughout most of the song the musical foundation is built upon a repeated arpeggiated motif on the piano, with the tremolo-picked guitars serving as counterpoint or harmony to this lead. As is typical in the composition of a sonata, we shift direction partway through, and the guitars take over — not precisely replicating the piano part from earlier, but riffing on a similarly styled arpeggio. Then, the previous theme is reintroduced, although approaching the end of the piece, the structure breaks down somewhat, and more and more dissonant tones and chords enter, possibly signifying that the descent has come to an end, and we have now entered the realm of Hades.
As we make our way through, we seem to be mirroring the path taken by one who has passed beyond this world and must now accept either eternal salvation or damnation; we are shown “The Omnipotence of the Judges,” and later introduced to “Those Who Decide About Fate.” The latter produces a very sinister mood, using syncopation in a rather unsettling way, along with a host of ominous strings in the background.
The song “Under the Wings of Thanatos” (Thanatos, or θανατος, literally means “death” and is the name given to the god of death. Incidentally, he and his twin brother Hypnos, the god of sleep, are sons of Erebus.) has an interesting composition: it uses a guitar as the lead instrument, with traditional black metal trem picking, but the overall melody resembles a Bach-style fugue. Adding to this impression are the strings and other instruments in the background; the arrangement here sounds like an orchestration of a piece that was written for pipe organ.
“Possessed by the Moon (of the Underworld)” adds a very deep death growl voice to the standard black metal vocals, as does “Those Who Decide”; this second part has a very demonic-sounding quality to it, and it also becomes more prominent as the album goes on.
Throughout the album we also meet “Kires” (κηρες, or Keres in English), which, as I have learned, are female spirits of death. The Keres were all daughters of Erebus, which would also make them sisters of Thanatos and Hypnos. We are also treated a somewhat baroque-sounding song about “Erinyes” (ερινύες), which translates as Furies, and is the name given to infernal goddesses of vengeance.
Then, there’s “Kerveros” (κερβερος, Anglicized as Cerberus); this name literally means “watchdog,” referring of course to the three-headed guardian of the gates of the underworld. In particular, Cerberus’ task was to keep the dead from crossing back over the Styx River into the realm of the living. Here we find almost entirely death-growled vocals, and very chunky heavy riffing. This song as a whole is very death-metally, for the most part forsaking any semblance of blackness. Near the end, though, the black metal returns, along with some strings, and what sounds like a harp bouncing its way through a series of descending notes, sounding like it came from a Tchaikovsky ballet — specifically, I believe it is a line from The Nutcracker‘s “Waltz of the Flowers” that comes to mind, except more sinister. Far more sinister.
The final movement in this symphonic voyage to Hell and back covers the “and back” part. “Adou Anavasis (Outro)” (αδου Ανάβασις) translates as “Hell Anabasis.” Exactly the opposite of catabasis, an anabasis is a military march from the coast up to the interior part of a country; more generally, a movement in an upward direction, so here the title describes “An Ascent from Hell.” Strictly instrumental, this short coda has in its forefront some free-form upright bass noodling. The background, primarily made up of strings and other orchestral instruments, has a few bright spots with somewhat optimistic-sounding chords, but mostly the mood remains ominous, foreboding, tense, and suspenseful. Whereas one might expect to feel much better upon returning from Hell, it seems that having made this journey has ultimately left us fearful and distrustful of whatever the future may hold for us.
Of course, simply reading about it doesn’t do justice to this work of art, any more than if I were to verbally summarize the plot of Dante’s Inferno for you. You would have to read the poetic language of that text in order to fully appreciate the images the author had set forth; likewise you would need to immerse yourself in hearing this entire album to really experience the power of the musical journey. You can do so by ordering a copy of the CD from the Orkestral Promenade webstore.