Macabre Omen_Gods of WarI 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.

Macabre Omen_2015

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”

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  • El_Cuervo

    Having discovered this days ago, it is stellar. I’ll have to give it more time, but it at least threatens my established top 10 list.

  • Will Atheling

    This is a fantastic album, shamelessly epic but full of curveballs. Very refreshing – and the album gets better with every song, ‘Alexandros’ topping it in my opinion. I have been returning to it again and again.

  • Alexandre Barata

    Saw a mention about Summoning on this review and instantly lost all my interest. Luckily the embbeded song was already starting to play, and it didn’t sound anything like lame-Casio-fake drum-songs-that-sound-all-the-same’s Summoning, but instead it is pretty cool! Gotta check the full thing! Thanks for the heads up

    • Haha, I totally identify with that Summoning description yet I still love ’em.

      • Alexandre Barata

        Ahahah I enjoy their first couple albums, but after that they sound like a really low budget Z movie’s soundtrack band. Like if me and a friend tried to make a remake of LOTR just with a stick and a pouch of cheese.

    • tomasjacobi

      “lame-Casio-fake drum-songs-that-sound-all-the-same’s Summoning”
      You say it like it’s a bad thing…

      • Alexandre Barata

        At first it isn’t, but after 20 years of re-recording the same single song it becomes tiresome to my sensitive brain :P

        • tomasjacobi

          I think that’s taking it too far, but sure, they have a style and they’re sticking to it.

          • Alexandre Barata

            It is indeed. I was being hyperbolic. I just despise them since 2001, the works before that were indeed not bad at all.

  • Have we done away with numeric ratings?

    • André Snyde Lopes

      TYMHM never have ratings. They have song recommendations instead.

    • If we feature it as a Things You Might Have Missed you can assume it would be 3.5 or higher.

      • [not a Dr]

        In that case, what do you expect everyone to disagree about?

  • Guillotine of Papal Crowns

    After the review I just went for the embedded track and FUCK. This sounds just like the first song in Kratos´ iPod: epic, brutal and just perfect to grab Zeus for his beard and throw him out Mount Olympus.

  • Scourge

    Love this album and so glad to see it finally get a mention here. Got the CD day one and listened to the hell out of it since then. Been pondering getting the vinyl as of late…

  • Thatguy

    Thanks Mr Z. Excellent review. I missed this and it sounds great.

  • tomasjacobi

    I certainly agree with the Rotting Christ comparison. But where they take a simplistic riff and drive it into the ground for 4-5 minutes, this guys goes on for 7-8 minutes which makes it even more boring.
    I’ll pass, thank you!

  • Kronos

    Macabre Roman

  • You wot m8?

    So if Bathory and Rotting Christ had a bastard love-child, this would be it? Yeah, that sounds pretty amazing.

  • Another candidate for “Things You Might Have Missed 2015” could be Immortal Souls – Wintermetal. Its not the best of the year, but easily a solid 3/5. Some of the songs are better than others and theres some wicked soloing in several of the songs. Tracks to check out “Calm Before the Snowstorm”, “Northern Star”, and the title track.

    • Martijn Brugman

      Great recommendation, that. Thanks. This seems the perfect thing to carry me through the dreadful hours (Christmas shopping, that is).

  • Javier Truyol

    “Man of 300 voices”, “From Son to Father” and the two “Alexandros” are fantastic. This is the best epic black album of the year, no doubt.

  • HammerofThor

    I guess I’m just old but these deliberately bad productions are such a turn off. Everything sounds like mush.

  • beurbs

    Wheezing Heap
    Band name… I CALL IT

  • Nick Maestas

    BADASS album! Been listened to it all day yesterday.

  • DrChocolate

    Well, there goes more of my money that could be ‘better’ spent in other places. Thanks a lot.

  • ┼yree

    Great album! I see Hells Headbangers has the vinyl now of this. Will have to pick up soon.

  • [not a Dr]

    Why no bandcamp link?

  • pfk505

    Furious, epic, and awesome. My AOTY by a mile.