At the Altar of the Horned God – Through Doors of Moonlight Review

Do you know what I miss the most from pagan black metal? Oh, you know, pagan shit. Oh, and black metal. Do you know what I’m getting real sick of? Nazi shit. Seriously. Shut. The. Fuck. Up. Like “pagan” wasn’t already a bad word to most of the Christian population. Now it’s a bad word for Christian-hating metalheads. Unfortunately, the folky, melodic, and, at times, quite beautiful qualities of the genre veil the National Socialist squabble from many a anti-Semitic band and label. Which, for someone that loves this style of music, is frustrating as hell. Many writers—not only of this website—won’t touch the stuff. Though plenty of writers skip over one-man black metal outfits because there’s a bajillion of them—all blurring together in one chaotic sound after another—”pagan black metal” bands get tagged and placed in a cold locker. Not a band name mentioned. Not even out of spite. But, neither I nor Spain’s At the Altar of the Horned God will let these motherfuckers spoil a good time.

At the Altar of the Horned God is a one-man outfit from Heolstor, of Mystagos.1 And his debut album, Through Doors of Moonlight, sees Heolstor broadening his horizons even further than he already has. Combining tribal drumming and big, chanting choirs with mystical atmospheres and melody, Through Doors of Moonlight is a seven-song ritual to our beloved Horned One. Heolstor notes inspiration from bands like Urfaust and, oddly enough, Dead Can Dance for the creation of Through Doors of Moonlight. While that folky quality of Urfaust and Primordial fuses with the subtle Neoclassical darkwave elements of Dead Can Dance, there also exists a raw, primitiveness in the more violent songs and passages. Like any ritual, there’re a variety of emotions that can surface. And TDoM has plenty.2

“A Ka Dua” opens the album with clean vocals, tribal drum work, and a folkiness akin to Primordial. It’s a calming number that sets up “Before the Flames of Undefiled Knowledge” perfectly. Similar in style to the opener, “Before the Flames of Undefiled Knowledge” ventures out into darker, prayer-like territories. It relies on big, booming chants and Viking-esque vox that grow with each passing moment. The back-half is a climactic eruption with soaring vocals that bring goosebumps to my forearms. “Malediction” takes its cues but summons darkness from dominating female leads. These remind me of the type used by Heilung, with the haunting qualities of Dead Can Dance and Green Carnation’s “Light of Day, Day of Darkness” as kindling. Then the darkwave influences take hold and drag it through the trippiest conclusion on the record.

As for the primitive blackness of the album, we have “Prayer I,” “Perdition in the Oneness,” and “A Circle of Swaying Leaves.” The first is a shock-value piece meant to interrupt the last six minutes spent with “Before the Flames of Undefiled Knowledge.” Though it still retains melody from its predecessor, “Prayer I” uses the melodic character of Norwegian first-wave black metal. “Perdition in the Oneness” and closer “A Circle of Swaying Leaves” achieve ultimate black violence while also weaving in folky chantings and a growing presence. As if getting nastier and more passionate, the closer is the meanest of them all. With his other band, Heolstor has plenty of opportunities to bludgeon his listeners with blackened venom but, even for him, this is his most vicious.

Like most good pagan black metal, Through Doors of Moonlight captivates from beginning to end. Unlike Moonsorrow and Winterfylleth, AtAotHG’s moments of old-school aggression are more jarring and less a fluid segue to the next rhythm or track change. But each song does indeed feel like a prayer to the One of Cloven Hoof. Gentle and kind for those times one asks for love and strength. Vicious and hateful when asking for help with retribution and vengeance. Though the weakest tracks are the back-to-back “Prayer I” and “Prayer II (Oh Glorious Pan),” they are nowhere near shitty. And the pleasing dynamics of the disc make for a pleasant listen. Fuck the Neo-Nazi bullshit. This is how pagan black metal should be: pagan.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: I, Voidhanger Records | Bandcamp3
Releases Worldwide: April 17th, 2020

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Which, incidentally, it also a one-man black metal band.
  2. Also, look at that gorgeous cover painting by Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule.
  3. You can find AtAotHG tracks here.
« »