“A solemn pilgrimage through nightclad wintry woods”
Three years after their acclaimed debut album “The Golden Bough”, epic German metallers are back with another strong slab of mythological iron. Even though it was the album I was expecting, it's nonetheless another strong effort. I do think they deserve the throne of epic metal and their new full length is only confirming this. Procession and Evangelist should all kiss the hand of the white goddess because it's a excellent album.
Composed of four epic ten minutes tracks, three interludes and a shorter eight minutes track, the album is a nice trip into philosophical or religious territories with “Heresiarch (Thousandfaced Moon)” and “Sol Invictus (With Faith and Fire)”. Their lyrical theme is absolutely excellent, I'm pretty sure the guys are historians or theologians since there's a true clerical research found here. Named after the famous book of Robert Graves, both this book and this album is a continuation of “The Golden Bough”. Taking the magical and poetic influences of these books, the band managed to create a rich lyricism for their music. It's much more subtle than many other lyrics and you can see that there's a real effort but into them. To be honest, many metal bands just seem to disregard their lyrics as an afterthought. It's perhaps not as much as important as the music for this style of music but I consider that if you want to be a complete band, it's essential to have a solid lyrical representation. It's not Sarcofago so bad lyrics are not an excuse
“At the standing stones the scythe will set him free. Bound to the oak, the Kingpriest‘s life for our creed”
Musically, I feel the band explored a doomier realm this time. There's no four minutes catchy track like “Disciples of the Iron Crown” to be found here. The catchier track is probably “Twelve Stars and an Azure Gown” with its awesome melodic repeated lead and the Churchill Zurich speech in 1946 and it's about the fate of Europe and the intestinal rivalries between the countries that destroyed the continent. It also has this awesome lead inspired by heavy/power metal and showcases the out of this world clean vocals of Markus Becker. His voice, not tough or rough, is perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of Atlantean Kodex, he's like this prince with a golden voice protected by the other four members of his kodex. The production on his vocal is less airy and tighter than on the previous album and that's an appreciable improvement.
“If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance, there would be no limit to the happiness, to the prosperity and the glory which its three or four million people would enjoy”.
I think the songwriting is more mature and rich as well while not intrinsically different from their early releases. I was listening to “The Pnakotic Demos” yesterday and except for the mediocre production, the basis of their sound is still there especially in the epic first track “From Shores Forsaken”. The sound only grew to an higher echelon here, the songs are as long but they're more focused and better overall. The guitars are heavy and the vocals destroys all the opposition in the epic metal world. Even if they already has this huge Solstice influence early on (hurry the fuck up Richard, it's been 15 years since “New Dark Age), it's a bit more present here or at least the epic doom atmosphere ate a large part of the traditional heavy/power sound. There's still the cool USPM inspired parts here and there, I guess you can still hear the mark of Cauldron Born especially in the high clean vocals.
The guitars of Koch and Trummer are excellent, from blistering leads to acoustic parts such as the short interlude “Bilwis (Sorcery and Witchcraft in Eastern Bavaria)”. They're never doing too much, never too flashy and they just deliver these good riffs one after one. Nonetheless, I almost think they're a bit overshadowed by the vocals, there's so many lyrics that even an eleven minutes song can feel short and busy. This can be both a good and a bad thing in some cases since the album can become overwhelming. Everything is great but it's so epic that it hurts. I wish the interludes would be longer or that they would have included a ballad of some sort on their album. The one hour album feels massive and even though there's still some interesting tempo changes, it can get a bit monotonous at times. I mean, I'm sure the taste of a deep fried hot dog is totally sublime but yeah, I wouldn't eat...OK I probably would but that's because I'm a pig!
“The White Goddess” is still grandiose enough, the epic connoisseurs will enjoy its bombastic approach and its rich songwriting. The album ends on an high note with a three minutes piano conclusion integrated on “White Goddess Unveiled”, a great twelve minutes song. The band has the balls to pull off interesting things but I feel they can and should do more exploration. Why not write long ass instrumental songs à la Melechesh and Lykathea Aflame! I believe they have the necessary vision and potential to do such things. I simply wish they would expand the clean moments found on a song like “Vesper All Hymn” featured on their previous album, it had this almost western or flamenco touch (quite unsure about myself here obviously) that I enjoyed a lot. Furthermore, with the integration of a slower/doomier sound, the catchiness of “The Golden Bough” has evaporated a little. Their 2013 release is more one sided and less varied than their esteemed debut.
The album is a safe sophomore to say the least, I wasn't of course expecting a new age record but the quality is optimal. The production is great and atmospheric, the musicians are top notch, the lyrics are perhaps the best written the genre has seen in a while and it's very epic, perhaps too much. This is still the best epic metal album of 2013, I, without certain restraints, welcome the new reigning kings to their throne.