I’m just going to come out and say it. I enjoyed Dimmu Borgir’s big-assed Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia. Yep, I said it. Haters be a hatin’ but its elements of bombastic orchestration and “beauty and the beast” vocals introduced a balance of demonic and angelic qualities that expanded on a style bands like Emperor and Limbonic Art had/have nurtured for years. Being a couple of my favorite bands, I prefer the musical directions of Emperor and Limbonic Art, but Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia was new and interesting. Sadly, this over-the-top, atmospheric style eventually became a little stale for me. Subsequent albums got bigger and more “epic” and I found myself getting bored with the heavy-synth and/or orchestra dependence of groups like Borgir and the symphonic-deathery that is Septicflesh. However, when looking through this month’s promos, I became excited by the influences of Liverpool-based, symphonic black metal band Ethereal. With references to bands such as Vesania, Vader, Zyklon, and Old Man’s Child, I set out to review their debut effort in hopes of finding something unique. But is it the same blackened meatloaf we tasted in 2001?
The dark and sinister symphonic elements that crack open “Nomicon” do little to conceal the biggest influence found on Opus Aethereum. Yep, you guessed it, Dimmu Borgir. Following the orchestral intro, the song bursts into a black metal maelstrom of pounding guitars, thundering blast beats, and vox that alternate between almost Satyr-like rasps and the deathy growls of Shagrath or Galder (with maybe a little Emperor Magus Caligula). “Nomicon” – as well as most of the tracks on Opus Aethereum – follows the basic Dimmu Borgir formula with heavy riffs, sweeping orchestrations, and even some of those damn gritty spoken-word passages utilized by Shagrath.
“Overwrite the Archetype” doesn’t stray far from the path paved by “Nomicon.” However, a few new elements are sprinkled on the Dimmu Borgir/Old Man’s Child scaffold, including a “groovy” modern-day Satyricon riff, an odd squeal-happy solo that reminds me of Dimebag (which you can find more of on “Contorted Utopia”), and a very doom-laden outro. “Waking Death” takes the doom aspect of Ethereal’s sound even further and with greater effect. This comes toward the end of the song and showcases buzzsaw guitars, atmospheric orchestration and blistering drumming. Naut’s hateful shrieks are fucking nasty, and the drums chase the emotional symphonics and machinegun-like guitars through a tunnel of scorn and desperation, setting the bar for future Ethereal releases.
Throughout all these interesting death/doom moments and the inclusion of other elements, like the devastating chugs of “Aethereum” and eerie chants of “Psalm of Deceiver,” there always seems to be an orchestral intro that leads into guitars and/or drums that ride along the length of the song with sweeps, frills, and generally epic character. Besides being quite predictable, it’s been done before by better previous bands. However, there are moments where the orchestration is truly effective. These include the big, sweeping backdrop of “Psalm of the Deceiver” and the perfectly balanced combination of blackened, doomy, atmospheric carnage in closer, “Waking Death.”
Opus Aethereum is fairly standard stuff, even if it is less bombastic than most of the discog of bands in this genre. Production-wise, the balance of the instruments is decent enough, though the massive headache I contracted from this “ethereal” release hurts like a son of a bitch. Mordrath’s drums are a real highlight here and his performance at the end of “Waking Death” is fucking sick. Also, the spewing, hacking, shrieking of Naut is just inhuman and is perhaps my favorite component of the album. So, if you are looking for a deathier and doomier alternative to what Shagrath, et al. have been doing for the last decade, then go pick this one up. If not… well, you know.