Aethereus – Leiden Review

Tacoma, Washington. Known as the “City of Destiny” because of its selection as the end of the line for the Northern Pacific Railway in the late 1800s, Tacoma was at one time anticipated to be the city in the state of Washington. Obviously, history had other ideas, opting to bestow upon Seattle international fame and fortune. And Tacoma has never forgotten the slight. For nearly a century and a half now, Tacoma has existed as the overlooked sibling with a chip on its shoulder, always trying to prove that it’s tougher and harder than Seattle, while simultaneously trying to copy just about everything its more well-known sibling does. Born in Tacoma—just like Holdeneye himself—Aethereus find themselves trying to establish an identity in the saturated technical death metal market. 2021 was a veritable thermonuclear explosion of tech-death talent as nearly every single one of the genre’s heavyweights dropped well-received albums. Can these Tacomans grab a seat at the table with the greats, or—like their town—will they find themselves relegated to live in the shadows of the giants?

In his mostly positive review of their 2018 debut Absentia, Kronos pointed out that Aethereus treads the middle ground between flashy tech-death and death metal’s more dissonant realms. Not much has changed in this department, but where Absentia had a tendency to feel a bit disjointed because of the band’s stylistic duality, sophomore effort Leiden cashes in on the potential inherent in Aethereus’ chosen sound palette. Weaving a concept that explores suffering, isolation, disintegration, and annihilation, the band wrote Leiden so that “it begins more conventionally melodic and then progressively gets more dissonant, with recurring motifs becoming uglier and more unrecognizable with each song.” After many listens, I can report that the album lives up to this goal, and the approach is successful not only because it serves the record’s story, but because it allows those—like myself—who might be averse to music that is exceptionally dissonant to acclimate like the proverbial frog in the pot. Embedded single “Behold, The World Eater” comes midway through the album and walks the line between ugliness and beauty by intermingling dissonant arpeggios with melodic guitar lines; its furious intro is balanced by a gorgeous solo section near the end.

But don’t make your judgment of Aethereus or Leiden based on the above track alone—this record is best heard in full. The opening trio of “Aberration,” “An Endless Cycle of Rebirth,” and “Shrouded in Kaleidoscopic Skin” channels the melodic intensity of Inferi, and the way these tracks incorporate orchestration and piano reminds me of the progressive death stylings one of my personal favorite bands, Becoming the Archetype. Speaking of piano, early Song o’ the Year contender “The Living Abyss” functions as the centerpiece of Leiden. The 9-minute monster is so well-written and balanced, and its emotive melodies are so bewitching, that you almost don’t even realize how grotesque and inaccessible its heavier passages are. The final three tracks descend further and further into chaos until the arrival of the colossal closer, “Upon Infinite Seas,” another SotY challenger. Its opening rivals the heaviness of a band like Humanity’s Last Breath, and for nearly ten minutes, the listener joins the story’s main character as they’re pulverized, falling progressively from despair to resignation, and finally, into oblivion.

I can’t get over how much Aethereus have improved as songwriters and musicians in the years following their debut. I enjoyed Absentia for sure, but Leiden is on a whole different plane of existence. I saw these guys open for Archspire, Inferi, Virvum, and Wormhole on Tech Trek IV,1 and it’s as if they absorbed the best qualities of these bands to level their sound up into something truly special. All of the performances are incredible, and while the production might be louder and less dynamic this time around, there’s still plenty of room for all of Leiden’s treasures to be heard and enjoyed. At 55 minutes long, it took a while for me to wrap my head around the genius on display here, but my patience and persistence have been greatly rewarded. Leiden is a journey of cosmic proportions, and while it’s best enjoyed all at once, the standout tracks would be “Endless Cycle of Rebirth,” “Shrouded in Kaleidoscopic Skin,” “The Living Abyss,” and “Upon Infinite Seas.”

At first I thought that these guys were lucky that Leiden was being released in 2022 and not 2021. After last year’s onslaught of technical wizardry, I thought that this record would ultimately have been lost in the maelstrom. I thought wrong. With this, their sophomore album, Aethereus have proven that they deserve to have their name uttered whenever and wherever progressive/technical death metal’s strongest bands are being discussed. Well done, gents. Way to keep Tacoma feared—musically speaking, that is.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: The Artisan Era
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: January 14th, 2022

Show 1 footnote

  1. I got to chat with some of the Aethereus dudes in the bar and found them to be delightful.
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