Hey folks, happy Monday! The end of December is really sneaking up upon us, and there’s a distinct chill in the air — like winter has finally (almost) arrived.
For your listening enjoyment today, here are two albums that just came out this month, each living somewhere in the spectrum of atmospheric black metal.
Aquilus – Bellum I (Blood Music, 03 December 2021)
Agnes Vein – Deathcall (Venerate Industries, 17 December 2021)
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Australia-based single-member entity Aquilus (aka the Latin word for “dark”) self-released a debut LP way back in 2011, then spent the entire following decade crafting its follow-up. So immensely epic is this new opus that it had to be split in half — with Bellum II due out sometime in the near future, while the eight-track, hour-long Bellum I has finally been revealed to the world in early December.
What we refer to as “Atmospheric” or “Symphonic Black Metal” often implies metal music where someone has thrown some keyboard chords in the background. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course! But this album’s opening track “The Night Winds of Avila” features a haunting solo piano with string accompaniment that would not have felt at all out of place if it had served as a movement from a classical piano concerto.
This same care to feature and highlight the piano and strings continues throughout the album, either woven amidst and among the black metal or blackened doom, or when serving as an interlude or outro of many of these songs — and “Moon Isabelline” features the piano almost exclusively, while closing track “Empyreal Nightsky” again consists of all strings and piano for most of its running time before switching over to an acoustic guitar ending.
Folksy-sounding acoustic guitar makes guest appearances elsewhere as well: such as in the introduction to “The Silent Passing” (which is then complemented by a much heavier acoustic riff as a segue to furious black metal; or “Eternal Unrest” which incorporates the acoustic guitar with the black metal in a way that would unquestionably appeal to fans of Agalloch or Oak Pantheon.
Altogether the record seems like a rather impressive masterwork when viewed on its own; but knowing that it is intended as merely the first part of a larger, grander piece… well, it’s hard not to feel excited in anticipation of what else is yet to come.
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Meanwhile, Agnes Vein of Thessaloniki (a city that has yielded quite a number of other bands we’ve discussed in the past) have just come out with their third full-length, Deathcall.
Across these six songs (about 47 minutes), we find plenty of traditional black metal going on, but often intertwined with more doomy and at times even sludgy elements. In fact, “Vultures Hymn” is practically just straight-up epic doom, with Gates of Slumber-style riffs and vocals. Elsewhere the vocals take on the format of a deathly growl, or at one point in closing track “The Golgotha Entanglement” there’s even a bit of chanting.
That last song ultimately builds its way to some massively heavy doom — and another highlight for this listener (to the extent that an album of such quality has any particularly high points) is “Sovereign Star,” which I found myself mentally describing as cough-syrupy black/doom, blended with avant-experimental-psychedelic confusion. Fun stuff!
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