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Thursday 10 November 2022

Reviews: Epica, Constellatia, Aurora Borealis, Vittra (Reviews By Richard Oliver, Matt Bladen, Paul Scoble, & Matt Cook)

Epica - The Alchemy Project (Atomic Fire Records) [Richard Oliver]

When it comes to the world of symphonic metal, Epica are one of the main players if not the best band in the genre. The Dutch band have always been the ones to push the boundaries and limits of the genre with huge grandiose arrangements, a progressive mindedness to songwriting and not being afraid to ramp up the heaviness and extremity when required.

The Alchemy Project which is the new E.P. from the band sees them in continued experimental form with this being a collaborative effort between Epica and a multitude of different artists and bands from the rock and metal world. The E.P. is made up of seven songs which have been co-written and co-performed with the respective collaborators and the mix of different collaborators ensures that a variety of different song styles are offered across this E.P. from the ferocity and grandiose nature of opener The Great Tribulation featuring Fleshgod Apocalypse, the classic rock and metal vibes of Wake The World featuring Phil Lanzon of Uriah Heep and Tommy Karevik of Kamelot and the haunting and cinematic Sirens - Of Blood And Water featuring Charlotte Wessels and Myrkur. 

Other highlights include The Final Lullaby which features Norwegian avant-garde band Shining and is an anthemic song with song suitably left field turns but one song that stands out as it is so different for Epica is Human Devastation which is a pure death metal assault which has no symphonic elements and is a complete violent assault featuring Henri Sattler of God Dethroned and Sven de Caluwé of Aborted. Epica have crafted a memorable E.P. with The Alchemy Project. It is a novel approach to have guests who not only feature in the songs but have also co-written and crafted the song and it results in some different and interesting songwriting styles and approaches for Epica. This is a bold and experimental release for the band and one that is an enjoyable listen from start to finish. 8/10

Constellatia – Magisterial Romance (Season Of Mist)

Constellatia are essentially a duo, formed back in 2018, the two main members are Gideon Lamprecht who on this record plays bass, guitars, keys and vocalist Keenan Oakes who live plays bass. It was a collaboration that came out of the frustration of limited bands within the South African metal scene, one that brought together the two men in order to create a band that was “a distillation of life’s meander, sadness and tribulations”. 

This is bleak, post/progressive black inspired by a wide range of artists but with mention of bands such as Opeth, Agalloch, Wolves In The Throne Room and as well as Alcest dare I say even Cynic and Blindead. The songs hinged on black metal veracity but with longing instrumental sections of maudlin atmosphere. Magisterial Romance is their second record, their first on Season Of Mist and due to the magisterial mention in the title, this duo have pulled out all the stops to make it surpass its predecessor 2019’s The Language Of Limbs, joining Gideon and Keenan are drummer Frank Schilperoort and additional guitarist Adam Hill (who also joins the band live), the four of them combining their alchemy in the studio to produce this dense, mature, layered record that needs several exposures to actually sink in properly. 

Even if it’s four tracks long each of them are longer than 8 minutes and need this time to undulate and evolve, the dark romance and catharsis of this album felt from the opening moments of Palace through to the dying embers of Paean EmergingLanguage Of Limbs was just the beginning as Constellatia increase their worth similarly to a band like Ghost Bath where the pained growls of Oakes are used as another instrument, the focus being on guiding the listener through expansive audio travelling, to feel what is happening as well as hear it. This is at its peak on In Vituperation which does heavily feature the vocals as almost a counter to everything else, even when it gets all washed out and echoed. Palace evolves into furious blastbeats in the centre after minutes of naval gazing, this change in pace continues until the final moments of the song the full bore style hitting home just how good this band and this record are/is. 

Returning from The Language Of Limbs is Honeymoan vocalist Alison Rachel who adds her voice to the 10 minute Adorn, while Honeymoan’s Skye MacInnes gives indie guitar lines to the first upbeat song on the record, setting an optimistic sounding riff to those growls, Alison’s cleans the antithesis of the extreme metal. Adorn is what happens if Emperor collaborated with a band such as Wolf Alice and damn it’s good, just don’t give Ihsahn any ideas! The final near 11 minutes of the record is given to Paean Emerging which to me is the most elementary example of Constellatia’s sound as the post metal shimmer of Cult Of Luna is joined by the black metal overtones. 38 minutes of beauty hidden beneath heartache and misery, Magisterial Romance will be an album you’ll want to be more than just a one night stand. 9/10

Aurora Borealis - Prophecy Is The Mold In Which History Is Poured (Hammeheart Records) [Paul Scoble]

Founded way back in 1994, Aurora Borealis have been a mainstay of American death/black metal. The three piece which features founding member Ron Vento on vocals and guitar, Mark Green on drums, and Eddie Ross on bass. In their 28 year history Aurora Borealis have released 7 albums before Prophecy Is the Mold In Which History Is Poured. 1998 brought us their debut album Praise The Archaic Lights, two years later they released the follow up Northern Lights, in 2002 the band released Time, Unveiled and four years after that they released Relinquish. Fifth album Timeline: The Beginning And End of Everything was released in 2011, Worldshapes followed in 2014 and the bands last album was released in 2018 in the form of Apokalupsis.

The style of death/black metal that Aurora Borealis play is rooted in the late nineties American black and death metal scene, which shouldn’t be surprising considering where and when they formed. The style on offer on Prophecy Is The Mold In Which History Is Poured is probably closest to Angelcorpse, with a little bit of Absu and maybe a little of American death metal such as Nile or Origin, but in Aurora Borealis they have taken this form and have given it their own spin.

What I am referring to is Aurora Borealis’ rhythmic approach. They have taken that late nineties style and have added some very choppy, fractured rhythms, in a similar way to Gorguts, to make the material lurch and stagger in staccato, fractured rhythms. Don’t get this wrong, there are still lots of super fast blasting and fast and flowing riffs, but the difficult rhythms tend to dominate and is where a lot of the extremity comes from, these choppy, fractured patterns.

One of the best places this is demonstrated is on the track God Hunter, which opens with super fast blasting of black/death riffs, but the song very quickly turns into a lurching monster of a track as the band go into these staccato, start/stop staggering rhythms and time changes. There are several places where the super fast blast beats come in to temper the difficult rhythms, but God Hunter works on interesting rhythms. Serenade Of Designations also has lots of these lurching rhythms as well, again there are faster sections that flow beautifully, but the main feel of this song is the odd rhythmic structure.

Serenade Of Designations also has one of the other standout features of this album; it has a cracking solo of savage shredding in a style that I found a little reminiscent of Trey Azagthoth. Founding Fathers Of Deception also has a great shredding solo, but the solo starts with a really pleasing melody solo before going into insane shredding. Although this album is all about the interesting patterns, the high speed blasting sections are very impressive, particularly the drumming. Hymn To The Archfiend is mainly high speed blasting, there are some fractured rhythms, but this track is mainly about fast, frenetic and beautifully flowing blast beats.

Prophecy Is The Mold In Which History Is Poured is a very interesting album, it probably won’t appeal to everyone due the the rhythmic arrangements, however, if you have an open mind and are open to being challenged, than this is a very rewarding album. The band have maintained a style that makes them stand out in the extreme metal world, and they should garner a lot of respect for that. I found that after a few listens the album opens up to the listener, and what was initially a little impenetrable, became a very interesting and enjoyable album. 7/10

Vittra - Blasphemy Blues (Emrinc) [Matt Cook]

The press photo for Vittra is one of the most disarming there is when it comes to melodic death metal, or metal in general. The disconnect between the sound of the Swedish four-piece and the snapshot of casual, easy-going dudes is mighty palpable. In fact, the community could certainly use more of that moving forward. 

Debut full-length and independently released Blasphemy Blues is steeped in smooth, adept guitar solos; a mighty polished production value; and groovy song structures coupled with lethal humdingers. Vittra are vibrant, armed with burgeoning strumming and white-hot screams. Halls Of Ancients acts as an early spark with its get-up-and-go riffing, ensuring the rest of the 30 minutes are filled with rage and vitriol. David D√∂ragrip jostles with the rhythm section, vying for recognition. The guitars are constantly shining and delivering; the vocals sharp enough to restore even the dullest of blades. 

Though as a melodic death metal band (especially a Scandinavian one), Blasphemy Blues is chintzy when it comes to melodicism. Lacking a keyboard or synth player, however, allows for harmonies to be achieved the old-fashioned way. Satmara begins acoustic until the intro is plugged in and let loose. Feeding Frenzy incorporates a solid song structure. And the drum-driven Sommarfodd includes a chanty intro that’s quickly thrown off a mountain and colliding with every tree on the way down. That’s a plus, by the way. 

Vittra fully embody death metal in 2022, even if their photoshoots might suggest otherwise. The toxic harsh vocals, able-bodied riff work and crystal-clear sound (especially for independents) culminates in a barn-burner. 7/10

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