I love combining metal with long-distance running. I find that reducing myself to a wheezing heap is a surprisingly effective way to evaluate new music: if an album makes me say “fuck this!” and throw my iPod into the nearest drainage ditch, it probably isn’t worth revisiting. With Macabre Omen’s sophomore effort Gods of War – At War, the effect was quite the opposite. Somehow, in the album’s 61 minute runtime, I’d gone from jogging in North America to summiting Mt. Olympus, punching Zeus in the throat, and strangling the entire Greek pantheon with my sweaty tube socks. Point being: this album contains the most empowering, larger-than-life metal I experienced in 2015, and you need to hear it.
Drawing parallels to Viking-era Bathory and fellow Greeks Rotting Christ, Macabre Omen was formed by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Alexandros in Rhodes in 1994, before relocating to London and releasing debut The Ancient Returns in 2005. While Ancient was impressive, featuring triumphant Hellenic black metal tinged with Nocternity-esque atmospherics, Gods is the no-holds-barred second act that steps everything up tenfold. Working as a duo with drummer Tom Vallely (Lychgate, Omega Centauri), Alexandros has taken the last decade to craft an album that feels like an all-you-can-eat buffet of everything great in extreme metal: sweeping pagan black metal riffs, colossal Summoning-style battle melodies, driving blastbeats, earth-trembling rhythmic marches, tender acoustic guitar, and a soaring Greek choir to top it all off.
Nothing showcases this better than the title track itself. Beginning with a tour-de-force of grand Hellenic riffing, the song breaks into a melodic lurch that sounds like something Summoning would write after snorting a mix of cocaine and tiger blood, made even better by the operatic choirs that gloriously sweep in to sing the song title. Later tracks like the Sparta-inspired “Man of 300 Voices,” melancholic burner “From Son to Father,” and two-part closing suite “Alexandros” get even more complex with the incorporation of more clean vocals, electric/acoustic harmonization, echoing death growls, and exotic instruments like mouth harps and medieval drums.
Yet despite the massive scope, Gods never collapses under its own weight. Thank the production – with a DR of 8, the mix manages to provide appropriate potency to the chunkier riffs and Alexandros’ Austere-style wails, while subtly interlacing the secondary elements and squealing, subterranean leads. But even with all the awesome guitar-work – and opener “I See, the Sea!” and late highlight “Rhodian Pride” have plenty of it – it’s the songwriting that really seals the deal. Averaging seven to eight minutes, these eight tracks fluidly shift throughout their runtimes, subtly layering elements and morphing the melodies in a manner that almost sounds improvised. The effect is absolutely superb: while great moments are repeated enough to satisfy, they also don’t sound quite the same each time, encouraging multiple listens and making the finished product sound both dynamic and genuinely alive.
The cherry on top is the lyrics themselves, which recall ancient battles and myths not from a superficial blood-and-guts standpoint, but from a personal, reverent perspective that matches the mixed sense of triumph and longing conveyed by the music. It’s a fitting final touch to what’s become not just my favorite black metal album of 2015, but my favorite album of 2015, period. Simply put: regardless of your taste, Gods of War – At War is an album I cannot recommend enough.
Tracks to check: “I See, the Sea!,” “Gods of War – At War,” “Rhodian Pride”