Ages – Uncrown Review

There’s something distinct, and distinctly satisfying, about the mid-90s surge of Scandinavian melodic death and melodic black metal. When the likes of Emperor, Sacramentum and Dissection were changing the face of metal they were precocious kids with precise and warped visions of what they wanted darkness and evil to sound like. I feel an oxymoronic cold warmth when hearing bands which fit this sound. Many bear the torch but few get so high as those early pioneers. Sweden’s Ages are one such group and their sophomore album called Uncrown is set for unveiling. Are they fit to wear the (un)crown?

The opener called “Burn Them” demarcates the intent of Uncrown. Trilling, icy guitars fill the sound-space with melodic and reasonably atmospheric sounds. When the bass guitar and drums expand into the bottom end, the music acquires a heaviness which goes further than the thinness of some black metal. This thickness is further bolstered by the gravelly vocals. Despite the distinctly Scandinavian (and melodic) flavor of this blackness, keyboards aren’t generally present and there are but a few small snippets of other instrumentation to gild particular moments. “Illicit State” first demonstrates this with subtle choral backing vocals towards the end of its opening passage. These fragments are subtle and tend to be low in the mix, simply reinforcing the melodic edge across Uncrown.

Ages have forged a record here that is essentially decent. Consistent with its influences, it recalls Uada, though sits closer to the solid-but-not-outstanding sophomore release than the sharp, memorable debut. There is a consistent melodic style, consistent tempo, consistent song length and consistent song structure. This leaves me with a sense of similarity throughout and struck by the lack of standout elements. The subtle fragments of varied instrumentation mentioned above are too subtle and infrequent to satisfactorily overcome this regularity. Unfortunately, despite its apparent success, it’s the interlude in “The Death of Kings of Old” which is the exception to prove this rule. It leverages a silky acoustic guitar which is characteristic of Scandinavian melodic metal to forge a light, floating melody, while choral chants confer an impressive atmosphere. It’s a beautiful moment and one which highlights the need for more of these to break apart the record’s consistency.

At the risk of sounding like a pop-mongering poseur, I think choruses would also greatly benefit Uncrown. These would confer greater purpose and identifiability to the songs as most follow a linear track above a cyclical one. Though most refer back to opening leads towards their conclusion, the tracks lack core motifs in their middle minutes. The linear writing results in some carefully constructed and climactic finales, such as on “Herolds of Enslavement,” “A Hollow Tomb” and “Dominionism,” but also tracks which otherwise lack memorability. Without choruses and with few standout moments, Uncrown loses some meaning. Again, there is an exception to prove the rule: “Undivine” boasts one of the strongest and most melodic guitar leads which recurs throughout. This refrain deliberately frames the track and it’s consequently my favorite.

Uncrown is satisfactory. It has satisfactory melodies and a satisfactory atmosphere. The characteristic icy slice of Scandinavian meloblack is satisfactorily achieved and particular fans of the genre will certainly glean more. But it lacks the x factor required to go further than this middling conclusion into realms of requirement. I want Ages to ham it up; lean on those choral chants and deploy your smooth acoustic skills. Write fatter string sections to beef up your emotional peaks. I’m far from the biggest symphonic metal fan but I just want a little more to demand my interest.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Black Lodge Records
Releases worldwide: August 21st, 2020

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