Written By: Hell³

Ebonillumini - Arktos 01Rather than a true sub-genre, “avant-garde” seems more a default category for bands who can’t be pigeonholed with a nice, tidy tag. With a name like Ebonillumini it’s almost a given this is a band worthy of the avant-garde label. Less obvious is that they’re far removed from anything like an Arcturus style of forward-thinking, unconventional metal. Their jazz-like song structures and neo-classical instrumentations combine with a solid black metal base reminiscent of The Meads of Asphodel. The band’s lineup explains this similarity. Back in 2008, J.D. Tait, main composer for Meads, formed Ebonillumini with Christina Poupoutsi, singer with The Higher Craft, another of Tait’s bands. Adopting the whimsical personality of a traveling party, they took the character names of The Monk Marshall and The Maiden and released a couple of moderately successful E.P.s. Choosing to work with past and present members of the aforementioned bands, in 2013 they expanded the group and produced their first full-length, Pacificum. As the first part of a fantastic journey to some of the more exotic places around the world’s oceans, Pacificum explored locations from the Pacific rim. In the style of 19th century supernatural horror writers they developed a narrative with a mysterious musical atmosphere, instilling a healthy fear of the unknown. Well-placed, shocking moments of aestheticized Black-Metal terror served as successful resolutions to these set-ups. Their new album, Arktos, is the sequel to Pacificum and moves the theme to the Atlantic Ocean.

They take a more romantic view of these whereabouts, and this album seems more personal than Pacificum (although that’s difficult to confirm without access to the lyrics). Sentimentality seeps through the songwriting and makes the album a more subdued affair. The set-up unfortunately hasn’t much of a release even though aggression and energy are not totally absent. Arktos has bouts of great musicianship coupled with some tongue-in-cheek moments that shine through. “Lusca” is an example, telling the tale of an underwater monster in the Bahamas. It’s a bit of a cheesy chronicle with a nice mid-tempo build-up in the same neighborhood as those Japanese metal horror specialists Sigh. Considering that Mirai has notoriously collaborated with The Meads of Asphodel, it’s an understandable influence. However, not even lively stand-out tracks like “Coral Castle,” “Crystal Pyramid,” and “Ghost Ship” will be enough to keep this boat afloat against an overly pensive mood that quickly weighs on the listener.

It’s not that the band can only sound compelling when going at full-speed blackened fury. The downtempo closer “Oceanic Abyss” has a melody gripping enough to compare with the best works of noted oceanophiles, Giant Squid. But the song lasts more than nine minutes, an example of the lack of self-editing that fills most of Arktos’ tracks with unnecessary and usually aimless wanderings. Without them the album could have been a more palatable offering, but as result, the album’s hour-plus runtime becomes exhausting.

Ebonillumini - Arktos 02

The production decisions also detract from this music. The mixing makes it obvious The Maiden’s voice is the focal point, suplanting the stronger presence of The Monk Marshall’s harsh vocals on their previous work. This wouldn’t be a problem, but when combined with a brickwalled production the heavy areas sound remarkably weak. Even her brilliant vocal acrobatics can’t save the mixing job from being a jumbled mess during the busier moments.

Arktos checks all the boxes for a release that could have been as grand as the band’s pretensions, but it’s brought down by its own reality. It’s a letdown compared to their debut and does very little to actually push the musical envelope. They’d have much more favorable result with more concise slow sections, a balanced mix and a far less brickwalled production. As it is, I can only recommend it to the most loyal followers of the band’s other projects. Others may be better off with a lifeboat and a new travel agent.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps MP3
Label: Wickerman Recordings
Websites: EbonilluminiOfficial | Facebook.com/Ebonillumini666
Release Date: Out Worldwide: 06.01.2015

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  • Dr. A.N. Grier

    Good review but this is a damn shame. Was semi-interested in checking this out.

    • Thanks!

      Yes, when I found out about the relation with The Meads of Asphodel my curiosity was piqued. Sadly it really left me stumped.

  • Martin Knap

    I’ve heard one track and it really was kind of ‘ok, nothing special’. What are some of the lesser known ‘avant-garde’ bands (ie. other than Sigh, Arcturus) that are worth a listen? I can think of A Forest of Stars (reviewed here), newer Master’s Hammer (also reviewed here), and Quintessence Mystica (quirky Ukrainian symphonic black metal made by a guy who plays in a real orchestra).

    • El_Cuervo

      Good review man.

      In reply to your question, I would recommend Omrade’s Edari (though it’s a more general avant-garde, metal is only one of several genres used here), and Manimalism’s ST album. Really cool

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      I second El Cuervo. Omrade’s Edari is a stellar avant-garde release (and also reviewed here).

      • Martin Knap

        Yes, Omrade is really great, but what I had in mind was something comparable to the reviewed album, not just any old avant-garde music.Maybe it’s best described as black metal gone weird or something like that. Dødheimsgard maybe is a good example.

    • Thanks El Cuervo!

      I’d push Thy Catafalque if you haven’t heard them yet Martin

      • Martin Knap

        Thanks, I’m just checking it out.

        • Ved Buens Ende is quite unknown because they made just one album back in 1995, very special thing.

      • Jean-Luc Ricard

        Thy Catafalque are excellent.

        • Actually it is just one guy – Tamas – doing most of the music if not everything. He is now working on the next record, can´t wait for it.

          • Jean-Luc Ricard

            Ah cool, I didn’t know that. Extra impressive!

          • basenjibrian

            Another vote for Thy Catafalque. I cannot think of better “working out at the gym” music!

    • sir_c

      I’d try some of the following:

      Smohalla – Résilience
      Vulture Industries – The Tower
      XCIII – Like A Fiend In A Cloud
      Thy Light – No Morrow Shall Dawn

      oh, and Zappa of course, but he’s a genre on his own.

      • basenjibrian

        Just finished listening to Vulture Industries this morning. Reappraising them quite a bit from the “meh…they are just Forest of Stars wannabes”
        Speaking of Forest of Stars, his side project, The Water Witch, is pretty outstanding, too.

        • It’s funny, because I think they are much closer to Arcturus. Everyone thought so when they got mentioned in the Arcturian thread.

          • basenjibrian

            I can see that, too. V.I. came up though also in the Forest of Stars thread.

          • Most likely I feel that way because I heard VI before A Forest of Stars

          • sir_c

            Yeah, second that. I started listening to VI mostly by lack of new Arcturus material. What VI do may not be genius stuff, but there are pretty decent moments on their albums which make them above average.
            Plus, they are a more listenable than some avantgarde bands. As in song structure.

      • sir_c

        In addition, which happened to come across my playlist today:

        Serdce – Timelessness
        Follow The White Rabbit – Endorphinia

    • Carlos Marrickvillian

      Giant Squid are great. Minoans was one of my favourites from last year.

    • Gonzalo Salazar

      (Unless they are too “mainstream” avant-garde…)