As a fanboy extraordinaire of classy, epic doom, I’m clearly the target demographic for larger-than-life regressive metallers Atlantean Kodex. Their massive debut The Golden Bough was an intoxicating mixture of While Heaven Wept, Solstice and Solitude Aeturnus with a healthy dose of Bathory‘s Hammerheart added for Viking flair. On the strength of some excellent writing and a ginormous sound, it easily made my “Best of” list for 2010. Since then I’ve been playing the waiting game as they slowly worked on a proper successor album. Though saddled with great expectations in a year built on musical letdowns and missteps, these German doom stalwarts didn’t disappoint and The White Goddess is another glorious slab of epic doom with plenty of heft and more class than any royal family. The style is the same, the writing is better and the songs are stirring, heroic and bigger than a Night Train and tequila hangover (serve VERY cold!). In a world where less is more, this shows why sometimes more is more!
As with The Golden Bough, things open with waves on the shore (a constant thematic element for these chaps) and after a table setting interlude, the album’s first single, “Sol Invictus” comes charging out. At almost eleven minutes, it’s a mighty long opener, but the writing, pacing and big-time performances make it instantly accessible and enormously satisfying. There are endless barrages of thick, up-tempo doom riffs, trilling, emotional solos and soaring, impassioned vocals. The chorus is huge, the mood is epic and powerful and the whole thing sticks to the ribs on the first spin. It’s over before you realize it and that’s the sign of top-level writing. This formula works even better on “Heresiarch (Thousandfaced Moon)” which is beautiful, poignant and takes all the best elements from While Heaven Wept and Solitude Aeturnus to capture the true nature of doom. Markus Becker blows the doors off with hugely dramatic, affecting vocals and the chorus is about as epic as it gets without Odin Himself kicking down your front door and impressing you into his honor guard.
The quality flows like victory mead and “Twelve Stars and an Azure Gown” introduces magically forlorn, weepy doom leads as Becker adopts a style strikingly similar to original Fates Warning singer John Arch. In fact, certain segments of the song sound like lost material from Awaken the Guardian and that’s high praise indeed. Becker shines particularly bright here and everything is so full of feeling and emotion, it’s almost overwhelming. “Enthroned in Clouds and Fire (the Great Cleansing)” delivers slower, epic doom of the trve variety with all it’s loving Candlemass worship and Viking chantery. The lengthy closing title track winds things down on a high note as it assaults with huge, thick riffs which morph into folksy flourishes while Becker’s clarion call vocals sail high above like Odin’s all-seeing ravens.
Not a bad song anywhere to be found and the whole thing clocks in at a manageable fifty-eight minutes. While the tunes are all long, none become tedious or tired. Though a minute could have been cut here and there, the writing is surprisingly tight and the pacing of the songs is masterful. They don’t shellac you with one doom riff over and over and they constantly spice things up with solos, guitar harmonies and tempo shifts. My one complaint is a minor one. Overall this feels a bit less heavy and crushing than its predecessor, though it’s still a weighty doom album. There was a trade-off of heaviness for melody and while I can’t argue with the results, I want both because I’m greedy.
Becker has improved as a singer since The Golden Bough and he gives a great performance throughout The White Goddess. He sounds like a mix of Joachim Cans (Hammerfall), Rain Irving (While Heaven Wept) and John Arch and the man can convey emotion with the best of them. He provides the hopeful sugar-coating on top of the doom and gloom and makes the whole package go down smoothly. Guitarists Michael Koch and Emmanuel Trummer return in top form and keep all the things that worked before, while also broadening their sound and dialing back the straight power riffing to allow for more expressive, somber moments. They load the songs with trilling melodies, gorgeous solos and ear-catching nuances and I’m suitably impressed, but what really sets their playing apart is the way they weave that oh-so-important epic vibe into their riff phrasing and lead concepts. This genre requires the listener to feel like he or she is scaling Mount Doom while carrying the Sword of Iron Destiny and these guys know exactly what that should sound like! Kudos.
I didn’t expect Atlantean Kodex to top their last outing, but they surely did. The White Goddess is bigger, tighter, more grandiose and addicting and it cements their status in the pantheon of great doom bands. This sounds like the Album of the Year and it will be tough to beat at the end of year reckoning. If you like melodic doom, drop whatever you are doing (unless you’re holding a baby or puppy) and pre-order this absolute beast of metal. Steel hath spoken.