Why do I do this? I am not paid to write here; I wouldn’t mind but I never set out to cash in on my inconsistent drivel at 700 words a pop. Love of the gig, the craft, the community all register and indeed carry me when nothing flows and everything comes out like shit, but that did not impel me to sign up. Having something to say reads more like a line on a CV than a raison d’etre, but maybe. Tarot make me think so. I can count on one hand the number of records that so immediately and viscerally impacted me as Æther Realm‘s second effort. Rectifying its absence here might just be why Jørn put me on this planet.

Breathless, electric-fingered riffs that sounds better than anything written in Wintersun‘s sauna; deep orchestral compositions contributed by Dan Müller of Wilderun fame; a flair for the theatrical not unlike Xanthrochroid and fellow North Carolinians Undrask; shout-along choruses that bang around your head for months on end; only a baby-hating commie would complain about that. But what puts Æther Realm on that next level? Is it the melo-centric multiverse’s worth of influences? From “The Chariot,” the best Children of Bodom track in a decade, to “The Devil,” a Fleshgod Apocalypse stomper with infectious cadence, to Song of the Year candidate “King of Cups,” featuring who else but Alestorm’s Chris Bowes, Tarot reveals a new facet with every card it unveils. Is it the narrative achievement of allowing a lyrical collection of page-turning vignettes like “Tarot,” “Death,” and “The Emperor” to culminate into a fulfilling storyline? What about titanic closer “The Sun, the Moon, the Star,” an near-twenty-minute epic that, despite whiffs of self-indulgence, could hang with “Mana,” “Cockroach King,” or “And Then There Was Silence” any day of the week?

Maybe it’s the charisma. Screwy yet well-executed diversions into flamenco, Old West player piano, and even chiptunes only bolster the distinct appeal of each song’s identity. Æther Realm‘s online presence brands them as preeminently self-aware and quite likeable, and bassist/vocalist Vincent Jones lets that quality bleed into his performance. His delivery is easy to follow and never loses legibility or fails complement the day’s adventure. The production likewise is one of the best jobs of the year, somehow finding space to treat blast beats, choir swells, virtuoso solos, and orchestra sweeps with all the love and tenderness they deserve. Both emphasize emotional connection with the music, worming you through the fearful flight of “Tarot,” the resignation and resolve of “Strength” and “Temperance,” and the tear-jerking climax of “The Sun, the Moon, the Star.” Unlike other albums that tout a hollow concept as a main draw – or worse, sacrifice principled musical  composition at the altar of the narrative – I found myself fully invested in the careful balance of artistic mediums.

Maybe it’s that combination of story and spark that made my listen today, probably my 50th of the year, as engrossing and blood-pumping as my first. Maybe it’s none of the above, and instead is some intangible that I’ll never nail down. The album should suffer no detractors, not even those armed with the minor but legitimate gripes about length or excessiveness, because what Æther Realm have achieved here is spectacular. I have no idea how they will top Tarot, but I can’t wait to see them try.

Tracks to Check Out:  “King of Cups,” “The Chariot,” and “The Sun, The Moon, the Star”


  • P.K.

    I grabbed their debut back when it came out and considered it to be the true 3rd Ensiferum album (disregarding everything after Iron), making Tarot a no-brainer buy when it surprised me in the new release lists this year.

    All you say about Tarot is true. An awesome album that really proves Aether Realm to be much, much more than just a worthy Ensiferum substitute!

  • Levly

    So glad to see this record given some love in this hallowed pages, it’s been a favorite of mine ever since I discovered it thanks to the fine people at Metal-Fi. Speaking of which, you forgot one crucial element in the triumph that is this record: one of the best productions of the year, to which all records in the genre should aspire: drums with a real kick, balanced instrumentation, audible bass, wonderful dynamics, it has it all and that makes it a joy to listen to every time. For me that’s the secret ingredient that underpins all the other that you describe so well.

    In any case, it is in my top 5 for the year, absolutely brilliant.

    • Dr. Wvrm

      I’ve got a line in there about it, but it really deserves more highlighting. This is an album I really wish could have received a full review, cause the 500 word limit (that I kinda skirted here) just isn’t enough for an album this good.

      • Still, a great review. Agree with everything you wrote, especially the Bodom and Fleshgod comparisons on “The Chariot” and “Death.” Also, though a bit more directly relatable, I think “Tarot” is the best Ensiferum song since “Twilight Tavern.” This album has been Top 5 for me all year, and delivered the album I’ve wanted from Wintersun since 2005 onwards.

      • Man, tell me about it. I thought my current 690+ word TYMHM was 90% done, then I awoke to the screams of Steel editorial justice. I’m not even remotely sure how to trim it down since I went out of my way to use some very specific phrasing throughout most of it (read: references for days). My tears paint rivers on my cellphone at the very thought.

        • Dr. Wvrm

          Shit dude, TYMHMs have always been a 500-550ish endeavor. My transgression here was by about 10 words, not 130 :|

          • You also know the rules a tad better than I. I just ran with what came out and happened to be looking at the word count, I hadn’t remotely entered the editing stage yet but figured I’d need to do “a little” trimming. Fvck. If I can’t figure out how to shrink this without sacrificing too much of my original attack plan, I’m probably gonna post the first draft somewhere just so y’all understand. I’m, like, proud of it and junk.

  • Septic

    Despite coming across this album on Bandcamp every other day, I never gave it a spin until now. Thanks so much for covering it!

  • El_Cuervo

    You didn’t even go out of your way to shit on “The Fool”. Good job!

    • Dr. Wvrm

      Word counts, yo.

      • El_Cuervo

        what’s that? “The Fool” is one of your favourite tracks on the album? Me too!

      • Real professional.

    • POWERLEMUR

      Curious what the problem with The Fool is–I like it well enough.

      FSR this album just clicked for me this week and now I can’t put it down. Barely even notice the length, which this blog has generally made me all hyper aware of, grr.

      • El_Cuervo

        I really like “The Fool” but our reviewer typically skips it.

        • POWERLEMUR

          I don’t know if I’d rank it a fave on the album, but it’s in no danger of being skipped unless I skip the entire first half of the album to make sure I don’t keep missing the second due to length. The Emperor might be the only place I’d be likely to skip, and not due to any strong feelings; it’s just the weakest of a strong lot for me.

          Anyway, I had gotten the feeling from comments elsewhere that The Fool had more widespread detractors, but perhaps it’s just the good Doctor.

          • Danny

            Really? The Emperor might be my favorite track! Short, sharp, and hooky. But I love the contrast between the longer, more expansive pieces and the concise bangers, it gives the record terrific flow.

          • POWERLEMUR

            Maybe the lyrics, I don’t know. Which is not to say that I’m not belting the chorus out under my breath anyway.

          • Nukenado

            I stand with you in defence of “The Fool”. Strength is the track that could use 2 minutes less…

          • Marshlander

            Nope, I’m prone to skiping The Fool as well. Its not at the point where I take a shit on the poor bastard though. The title track would have made a stronger opener. It’s much more sure about where it wants to go.

        • I was gonna say…btw Wvrmy owes me for this one.

          • Dr. Wvrm

            I actually owe a friend of mine at work who sits on Bandcamp all day every day and sent me this in addition to every vaporwave, garage punk, and no-label thrash release on the site :P

  • Solrac Avan

    I can hear some Equilibrium vibes on this, I like it

    • Anarchist

      I hear them too. God I haven’t loved or even really liked an Equilibrium release since Sagas, and that album was basically perfect.

      • Solrac Avan

        I love Sagas a lot, excellent album. I also like most songs on Rekreatur, after that, let’s not talk about it

  • Moulk

    I really love this album, but honestly, I don’t get your point production-wise. The first thing that hit me when I played it for the first time was it sounded completely flat. Sure, you can hear everything, but there’s no depth to the mix. That’s one of the only disapointments on this album, along with the cringy vocals on The Chariot’s chorus and the fact they couldn’t put The Magician because the CD was already full.

    • Dr. Wvrm

      I too usually find that albums with more space lose punch, but I didn’t find that to be an issue here. You’re dead on about The Magician though, I would have traded The Fool for that in a cocaine heartbeat.

      • galtenberg

        No way, The Fool is one of the best intro tracks I’ve heard in years – maybe because it sounds like a closing track

    • Danny

      I love the production! One of those albums that sounds kinda flat out of cheap speakers, but I put my nice headphones on and I just want to turn it up, and up, and up.

      And you’re right, the chorus on The Chariot totally sounds a bit metalcore. Which is alright with me, cause I’m down with that kind of thing, but that’s certainly another ingredient in the crazy mix that is Tarot.

      • kmanitou81

        Exactly, it’s the kind of production that benefits from quality hardware and volume.

      • Dr. Wvrm

        The lyrics remind me of the old Alexi Laiho stuff, Needled 24/7, Hate Crew Deathroll, that stuff, which I agree has a lot of that cringe overlap with metalcore, but in that light I can’t do anything but smile and shout along with it.

    • Nukenado

      It might be a player issue if you’re using a computer, the software might be peaking.

      The songs are DR10, so it’s a bjt better than normal compressed fare.

      • Moulk

        I never said anything about peaking on this album (*wink wink Ensiferum*), I didn’t hear any clipping on it. Which is an improvement compared to their first album :) But even if the first one clipped a bit (or a lot), I preferred the overall sound. It had more punch. Here, the drums sound horribly flat… Did you hear the snare? Sounds like it’s overcompressed, it doesn’t breathe at all… :/

        • Nukenado

          I can hear the snare and the reverb on it just fine…

          • Moulk

            Yes, we can hear the snare, of course. But it sounds, I don’t know, a bit muffled. Are we even listening to the same CD ? :p

          • Moulk

            But I have to admit, the only thing that bothers me is in fact the sound of the drums in general. The guitars and the voice are just fine. But dammit I don’t like the drums.

          • Jazzcastle

            I agree, the drums are maybe just a little too loud.

          • Nukenado

            I think you’re referring to the mix. It’s quiet, but I don’t hear compression. It might be a matter of taste in how the snare is handled.

  • Marshlander

    Thanks for TYHMing this one! I’m not so sure Unleash the Archers would have made Record of July if a Tarot promo had found its way to AMG.
    Brilliant music without a marketing budget needs all the help it can get – a noble calling if that is indeed your destiny, good doctor.

  • HeavyMetalHamster

    Such a frickin good album

  • Monsterth Goatom

    Thanks be to Jørn.

  • Iain Gleasure

    A fine group of fellows. Met them in Toronto when they played with Alestorm this year. I found Crimson Shadows more personable but my Lord, what passion on stage.
    They asked what shape people liked as a prelude to making the circle pit. Someone said circles suck and triangles were better. So A.R. told us to make a triangle pit with the point on the back wall and if anyone fucked it up they (A.R.) would jump in and kick our asses.

    • HeavyMetalHamster

      In T. Eh?
      Sorry I missed them…

  • 5.0/5.0 review for a 5.0/5.0 album. Absolutely my album of the year.

  • Planex

    A couple of you were commenting about this the other day and I had no idea what it was. Now I get to test it against the AOTY shortlist.

  • Danny

    I was literally listening to this record when I opened the blog. Such a masterpiece, Apex is its only real competition for AOTY. And that production is just beautiful. Sure, Tarot is overlong, and I could see trimming 5-10 minutes off the total runtime, but this is absolutely top-notch stuff.

  • Swordborn

    “King of Cups” is gross, but otherwise I dig this album. Good write-up.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    Just when I start catching up on all the great releases of 2017, along comes the advent of this year’s TYMHMs, and I’m back where I started. Jeez, honestly.

    Seriously, though, great find. Love the drum sound. Major Turisas vibe at the start of title track.

  • Nukenado

    I’d go further and say these guys have their own identity though;
    Who the hell has heard of folky semi-metalcore?
    These guys did it, and although polarizing, The Fool is one of the best tracks on the album for me.
    It just goes to show that there music is strong enough for everyone to have different favorite tracks.

    Also: HIGH DR!

  • Bas

    Ok. Its the time of the year where I am trying to decide on my top ten and you guys are messing everything up with the TYMHMs..
    Not sure whether I will like this though.. Still I will listen to it tomorrow as I follow doctors advice !

  • Ferrous Beuller

    “King of Cups” makes me want to gouge my eyes out JUST to plug my ears with them.

    Coincidentally, so does Gloryhammer.

    • Nukenado

      NOPE

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    This is a great review. I totally missed this and will have to check it out.

  • Wontolla

    If you haven’t, give their non-album single “The Magician” a listen. That’s how I found them, and it has everything that makes this album great, wrapped up in six and a half minutes. Engrossing long-form structure, top notch storytelling, melodies, and a nice big break in the middle. Think of it as a bonus track that doesn’t suck.

    • Nukenado

      What’s with all the bonus track hate? Zero Distance? The Absolute? Dissolving fucking Bonds, dude…

      • To be fair, while many B-sides can indeed prove to be excellent, there’s usually a reason that the bonus track wasn’t part of any given album. I defer you to 99.999% of cover tracks and remixes – Katatonia included* – to further my argument.
        * Literally the second I typed “Katatonia”, Round Here by Counting Crows finished playing on my phone… and Dissolving Bonds began. I take this as the spirit of Lord Seth Himself agreeing with me.

        • Nukenado

          Yeah, and there’s also that many bonus tracks don’t fit with the mood of the album.
          But I’m just nitpicking!

  • kmanitou81

    A great album with a great sound. The Kalmah touches are welcome as well.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Brought to you by the letter Æ!

  • Any possibility someone will be reviewing the new Iminhain before the end of the year? UK death/doom “EP” that clocks in at about 30 minutes and on a par with Indesinence et al.

  • Innit Bartender

    I thank you for this review. Listening to the opus right now while I write this, definitely tops! Wouldn’t have discovered this without you!

  • Antti Satukangas

    Thank you

  • Adam Armour

    I just discovered this album last week and have been listening to it nonstop since then. Absolutely infectious, ambitious and a ton of fun.

  • cockman-dickman

    Thanks for all the kind words Dr. Wvrm (and everyone)! Glad I didn’t cringe EVERYONE out with The Chariot’s lyrics. I was in a real Bodom zone.

    “I don’t give a flying FUCK motherfucker!”

    • GardensTale

      It’s a great album guys! Got to see you perform some of it in Nijmegen, NL, on the Troldhaugen / Alestorm bill. God that night was fun, especially when Chris came out for King of Cups in a bacon costume!

    • Dr. Wvrm

      “cockman-dickman”
      What, was fuckman-suckman taken?

      In all seriousness, congrats on such a fantastic album. If you find yourselves in Boston on your next tour (perhaps with Wilderun?), you’ve got a standing offer from me to split a large one-topping pizza and a pitcher of a non-premium domestic lager of your choice.

    • Dude, thanks for being the coolest non black metal Bandcamp discovery for me this year. I bought The Magician when it went up simply cuz it was there and I could afford it, then my tiny little world got rocked. Stay gold, Dickman Boy.

  • smmarx

    This is exactly what I needed. I did, indeed, miss this.

  • A Feed From Cloud Mountain

    Great variety and talent on display. Good shit, worth a listen.

  • Robert Weast

    I bought the album in the FLAC format and it is amazing. The Chariot just makes my cans hum. Awesome album, does anyone know if they are signed?

    • Dr. Wvrm

      Both of their albums were released on Primitive Ways Records, but I don’t know if those were one-offs or if there’s an actual deal in place.