There’s a scene that plays out in a lot of spy thriller type films where our hero or villain is chased into a crowded public space. Taking advantage of the extra bodies, they try to become part of the anonymous masses. There’s an irony to these scenes, which is maybe why we see them so much. The individuals in question are always the farthest possible thing from anonymous. They’re exceptional in almost every way, from their looks to their abilities and ambitions. Often, they’ll happen upon someone who is more or less their body double, similarly dressed and through some subtle maneuver, transfer their pursuers onto that guy. When he’s caught up to, clapped on the shoulders and spun around, we see some normal looking dude who is clearly not our super spy. Imagine for a moment that the spy being chased is the black metal band, Emperor. Finally cornered, they’re turned to face us, but instead of a defiant, dangerously cunning Emperor, we see a startled Aeon Winds just trying to go about their day.
Stormveiled is the second album by Slovak black metal band Aeon Winds, and it’s deeply rooted in the second wave symphonic flourishes pioneered by our aforementioned super spy stand-ins as well as Dimmu Borgir. Icy riffs and blast beats drive the album, while grandiose synthesizers ride shotgun across the 10 track, 50-minute run. Stormveiled structurally sounds a lot like In the Nightside Eclipse or Anthems to the Welkins at Dusk with a few hints of the atmo-black that would develop a decade after those seminal 90’s albums. “Of Times Forgotten…” kicks things off on the symphonic side with a synth build-up, frantic blast beats, a synth midsection, and then a restrained groove and guitar solo. As instrumental openers go, it does a surprisingly good job of building expectation for an epic black metal journey. Too bad what follows is middling at best.
First proper song “A Cosmic Sky Ablaze” starts with a decent riff, but it’s quickly lost in a busy composition that offers no clear surface to perch upon. When new elements are introduced in “Beyond All Empty Places” and “Dawn of the Untamed Moon,” they are more distracting than refreshing. The clean singing in the former is well placed, but not well integrated. This is especially true of the talk/shouting in the song’s latter half, which ends up sounding like an unfortunate attempt at rap. In “Dawn of the Untamed Moon,” the continuous blasting is interrupted by an evolving acoustic guitar line that, while objectively decent, oddly makes me think vocalist Svarthan is about to declare that he’s a cowboy, on a steel horse he rides and that he’s wanted dead or alive.
One problem with Stormveiled is the overly fussy synths that are always just under the surface muddying the overall sound, a problem which culminates in the instrumental “It Is Beneath Where the Mountains Sing.” Oddly, with that symphonic track out of its system, the album somewhat self corrects. “Legacy of the Unconquered Sun” is the first track that uses restraint to its advantage, and it’s followed by two truly good songs in “Stormveiled” and “To Embrace the Void.” These two tracks deliver for the first time on the epicness promised by the instrumental opener and shows that Aeon Winds can indeed write a solid composition front to back. Unfortunately, these come too late in an album that is exhausting in its mediocre songwriting until that point.
Now, I’m not saying the guy who gets mistakenly captured instead of the super spy doesn’t have an interesting or meaningful life, but I don’t want to see a movie about him. Listening to Aeon Winds has the unfortunate effect of inspiring me to listen to mid-90s Emperor instead. Compared to them, Aeon Winds‘ take on second wave symphonic black metal is a muddled slog. A few moments from Stormveiled suggest they’re capable of making noise in the current scene, but they are far from ready for their own leading role.