Anybody else been sucked into the Osmos void? You know that feeling, your Mote just floating around, chilling, absorbing smaller Motes, becoming more and more of a monster. Good times! Now stretch your mind a little… dress Osmos up in some black metal finery, slap on some corpse paint giving it just the right amount of edginess and there you have it – Melencolia Estatica’s Hel! This sombre, atmospheric black metal entity hails from Italy and other than the fact that their bassist and guitarist is Climaxia (of experimental black metal band Absentia Lunae) and that their vocalist is a ghoul named Afthenktos, there’s a shroud of mystery hanging over the band and its members that has me highly intrigued! [they even wear monk robes and hoodies onstage like a Ghost knock-off – Steel Druhm] In terms of similar sounding bands, Melencolia Estatica is an odd breed of duck and the only way I can really liken them to any other bands, were I to recommend throwing Absentia Lunae, Mayhem, My Dying Bride, Black Sun Aeon and Dimmu Borgir into a blender along with some atmospheric elements and hitting the high speed blend button – the weirdness of the resultant blackened, doomy concoction you end up with will be the closest you’ll come to Hel. Hel is a concept album based entirely on Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent German expressionist sci-fi classic Metropolis. For those not familiar with the story, here’s the short version – it’s set in the year 2026 and takes place in a dystopian society where the wealthy live and rule from their skyscrapers and the oppressed workers live, and operate the giant machines that keep the dystopia running, in the bowels of Hell below them [insert a socialist screed from AMG about the evils of capitalism – Steel Druhm]. Within this sharp divide created by the wealthy city planners, the son of the city’s mastermind falls in love with a prophet for the working class, who predicts the coming of a saviour and mediator. Now jump ahead 85 years (Fuck I just watched an 85 year old film!).
Much like a doomier, avant-guard version of Edge of Sanity’s Crimson, Hel is set out in chapters or in this case scenes with the tracks being numbered “Hel I” through “Hel VI” and at first I found this frustrating and disorienting, but it eventually grew on me. The opening track, naturally called “Hel I”, has a thick mix with no particular instrumentation being focal. Rather, they all add to and merge into one another thereby creating a rather pleasing and cohesive sound. Climaxia’s guitar and bass work is rock solid, and in “Hel VI” for example, while the riffs are by no means overly technical and flashy, they’re hauntingly beautiful and she plays only what’s absolutely necessary; nothing more nothing less.
Afthenktos handles all the vocals on the album which in itself is impressive as the range of vocals styles go from magnificent cleans to growls of pure devilry backed with screams that inspire absolute unbridled lust. “Hel III” and “Hel V” showcase his range to perfection; within seconds Afthenktos can switch from growls that bear a striking resemblance to those of Tuomas Saukkonen (Black Sun Aeon) to cleans that remind me of a mixture of Aaron Stainthorpe (My Dying Bride) and Kim Carlsson (Lifelover).
Because of the nature of Hel being a concept right from the album art through to the flow of the lyrics, it’s difficult to single out an individual track as standing out from the rest. The album flows and works as a whole and without any of the individual tracks the story would be incomplete. Despite the album being largely black metal inspired, the production is clean and modern, making it much easier to pick up on the lyrics and of course most importantly the concept.
Melencolia Estatica’s Hel is not an album you’re going to throw on shuffle and attack from every different angle, it’s more like a fine wine, coercing and consuming all your senses, and just like that glass of wine, you need to take the time to appreciate the subject and each atmospheric layer that tantalizes and plays with your mind. It’ll take some time and dedication for true appreciation to set in, but it’s worth it!