Aeternam – Heir of the Rising Sun Review

Ah, Aeternam. Ever since a rush order on their third album, Ruins of Empires, was foisted upon me early in my career as an Angry Metal Serf, the Canadians have become a reliable mainstay in the world of MENA-infused death metal. Ever armed with grit, heft and rock-solid songwriting, any release from this band has been cause for celebration. With Heir of the Rising Sun, we’ve reached album number 5 since the band’s inception in 2007. Wrapped in an absolutely gorgeous package and bundling its contents with an enticing historical concept, it’s certainly managed to stir my hype machine before I’d even heard a note. Did the Quebecois Quartet deliver a third time?

In many ways, Heir of the Rising Sun reminds me of TurisasThe Varangian Way. In both cases, a melodic band with a well-defined, folk-influenced sound use the framework of a historical scenario involving Constantinople to spin up their most bombastic and symphonic album to date. And just like the Turisas album, the result is among the band’s strongest material to date. The opener sets the stage: Osman I dreams up the empire he founds, the Ottoman Empire, and in his slumber envisions the conquest of the capital of the Roman Empire, which will eventually come to pass in closing epic “The Fall of Constantinople.” A few short spoken word segments anchor the music to this overarching shard of history, allowing for a greater cohesion than any of Aeternam’s prior albums.

Such a grand story calls for grand compositions, and the call is answered by a bolstered presence of orchestral arrangements. The band has shown itself more than capable of efficiently and seamlessly integrating such fancies with hefty death metal riffs, and the two halves complement each other so well here, it actually takes a few spins to fully appreciate the depth of the songwriting to make that possible. “Nova Roma” and “The Treacherous Hunt” are two of the more immediate examples. The former has a strong and punchy main riff that is allowed to shine fully, merely augmented by a few restrained string arpeggios, before the chorus blooms into full-blown Fleshgod grandeur. The latter finds an addictive melodic riff and full-blown orchestration running side-by-side with the strongest hooks on the album.

These are just two examples among many of deceptively simple yet great and addictive songwriting covering Heir of the Rising Sun. Of particular note is personal favorite “Where the River Bends” where Aeternam really flexes its storytelling muscles, the guitars and strings dancing around each other with quick, rising stabs that feel like the plunges of a ship on violent river rapids, the tempo rising and falling frequently and unexpectedly. The quality of the performers has never been in question for these guys; Achraf Loudiy in particular is in rare form on the mic, with a crystal-clear growl and smooth cleans. Though the lead guitar and bass have seen a change in personnel,1 they don’t detract from their predecessors, delivering delicious riffs and a solid foundation. The latter is let down a little by the production, however. Just like last time, the band has made small strides in clarity of sound, and the mix is excellent, but this music deserves a much richer master.2 The bass has little presence in the music and the drums, which completely lack impact, are easily the album’s most disappointing feature.

While the production leaves room to grow, it’s hard to deny the wealth of quality otherwise on display here. The Canadians keep growing more daring and confident in their compositions, and now the arrangement of the album as a whole has seen further improvement as well. I’m still hoping for them to see the light when it comes to the mastering job, but it’s not enough to keep me from breaking the score safety counter. Beautifully written and impeccably executed, Heir of the Rising Sun is another shining jewel in Aeternam’s crown.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self-released
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: September 2nd, 2022

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Now handled by Mathieu Roy-Lortie and Huber Blouin respectively.
  2. The 7 DR is influenced by the interludes and without them it would be a 6 across the board.
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