I first came across these guys when I was just browsing through a dark port filled with filth and metal bands where I have no business being at. To be honest I just noticed "USA" and "EPIC BLACK METAL", those together would usually put me off. I'm not a huge fan of black metal let alone EPIC BLACK METAL. But the cover I have to say was really really nice. Real piece of art. Most of the time black metal tends to be wrapped around frost and tundras, but these guys decided to go for swamps and bog.
So I thought I'd check them out and all the reviews I read were positive. Very positive indeed. So I thought I'd just listen. And it just absolutely blew me away. Musically it is great, but it wasn't just that. It was the scope they were going for and the grandeur! Both of which they achieved on a level that I had not really heard of since Emperor's Prometheus. What did or didn't help was how similar Ihsahns and Sam Meadors vocals are. Especially when he goes full In The Nightside Eclipse style. Musically they draw inspiration from Opeth, Emperor and Cradle of Filth. They take plenty of story telling tips(without the voice-over) from Bal-Sagoth. On their Bandcamp site they wrote:
We spent nearly a year in the studio; writing, recording, re-writing, re-recording every element of this album.Well the plan worked. They definitely delivered on their promise because this is a tight package of evil black nuances that few bands are able to do. The ability of going from sombre acoustic to blistering blast beat black metal without losing momentum is just phenomenal. Yes there are moments which feel like they are slightly overstepping their talent boundaries but every time that happens they pull it off, with gusto and without too much pretense.
Not to mention the many years before that we spent writing the actual material; making sure every note served its purpose, every line complemented its counterpart, and every lyric fit properly with our story, because we wanted to create something special.
It starts of with an orchestral intro piece dramatically named Aquatic Deathgate Existence that leads nicely into a full blown orchestral black metal title song. Into a nice melancholic ballad called Winter's End. Followed by the riff fest of Long Live Our Lifeless King. Oh just listen to the whole album, it is worth it if you like your black metal and you miss the times when Dimmu Burger did good albums.
This is one of the best concept albums I've had the pleasure of listening to. One with one of the most coherent story, with a HUGE background as well. You can easily hear that as well in that they use the same common musical thread on the entire album. In between they also use a choir to narrate the story, as well as bringing some welcome relief from the constant onslaught of brick-wall black metal. There is easily enough ideas and themes here that could be separated for 3-4 further albums. Sam Meadors vocals provide an excellent focal point for (what could have so easily been nothing but chaos) the listener. When he's not shrieking like a drunken banshee, he croons like nobodies business. The way he manages to switch from croaking to clean, un-vilified singing is mesmerizing. If he ever jacked in metal and wanted to go solo with some un-adultered rock, I think he would be able to make a handsome living. Of course the drummer not only provides the rhythm grounding for all this potential chaos he also mixed and produced this phenomenal piece of work. He manages to keep the music sounding huge and crisp, without it being sterile.
Now. I have not mentioned the EP, Incultus, that came out before. I wish I had come across it before the LP, but ah well it can't be helped now. Apparently the story and the world they created with the story is first set out here. It is here were we are first introduced to the brothers Thanos and Ereptor in the world Etymos. Their struggle against each other and eventual betrayal. What is interesting to hear on this album are the plethora of guest vocalists that sort of flesh out the story a bit better then they do on Blessed He With Boils. Natacha Nielsen did the album cover on here as well and it is again a album cover of desolate beauty. It sets the scene of what to expect really well and if I had been browsing through HMV (RIP) I would have bought both purely on the strength of the album covers. The music is definitely rawer on here and there's more done with black metal riffs, less orchestral work and the use of cookie monster growls also adds an extra effect. In a good way.
The talent pool that is floating in this band has extremely deep and I'm quite happy to float in it when my headphones are attached.