When you gaze upon the gorgeous artwork adorning the new Atlantean Kodex opus, does it remind you of another classic album cover? Look closely. If your metal mind went back through time to Bathory‘s Blood Fire Death, you win the Steel ov Approval. And it seems the similarity in art is anything but accidental. After impressing the metalverse with 2013s The White Goddess, the band took their sweet time crafting a followup, and the long-awaited The Course of Empire definitely dials up the Bathory-esque epic Viking side of Atlantean Kodex‘s mammoth heavy metal sound. Along with the band’s usual While Heaven Wept meets Manowar on Manilla Road take on oversized throwback metal, there’s a powerful Hammeheart influence under-girding the already titanic, soaring compositions, making for a heavier, darker sound. With over an hour of Homeric bombast and wanton excess to battle through, it takes a strong back and an iron will to weather this storm, so lash yourself to the mast, ignore the Siren’s song and let’s set sail to high adventure.
After a mighty intro builds a giant-sized mood with Markus Becker dramatically intoning on empires rising and falling, you’re treated to the 9-minute majesty of “People of the Moon” and all its stately grandeur and opulent metallic adornments. It’s the classic Kodex tune, driven by a mixture of doom riffs, and heavier, Viking-esque battle leads, then topped off with Becker’s soaring vocals. It’s as if Manowar circa Into Glory Ride tried their hand at doom, and it’s glorious to behold. Heavy, melodic and accessible as all hell, it’s what epic metal should sound like right down to the most minute detail – the lofty, fist in the wind chorus, the emotional ebbs and flows, the ability to make the music feel ginormous, it’s all here. You’ll be strapping on the Chest Plate ov Bravery before the song is even half over, and if you haven’t become a king by your own hand by its conclusion, you’re no Cimmerian. Brilliant, timeless stuff, and there’s so, so much more to come. “Lion of Chaldea” is every bit as immense, sounding like a metalized retelling of Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. It’s stout, catchy and gorgeously lush – a sweeping panorama of metal with a chorus that sticks like tar. “Chariots” begins life with ominous, weighty doom riffs that recall To Mega Therion era Celtic Frost before transitioning into Immortal-meets While Heaven Wept, and the early days Manowar influence is never far away.
As “The Innermost Light” takes flight, it’s almost impossible not to hear “The Misty Mountains Cold” from The Hobbit before the battle axes are handed out. The minor touches of classical orchestration and church organs add a greater sense of grandeur and awe, and the short runtime leaves you wanting more. The album’s back-half is one monstrous epic after another starting with “A Secret Byzantium,” which is a commanding tune – the kind you want blasting as you march into the final battle of Ragnarok, and it’s one of the band’s finest moments – massive, monolithic and as mighty as a song can be without reaching out of your speakers to hand you Excalibur. “He Who Walks Behind the Years” introduces a dose of John Arch era Fates Warning in its proggier structure and vocal patterns, and this one grew to become one of my favorite moments of the album. The biggest set piece comes at the end with the nearly 11-minute title track, and following so many huge, overwhelming compositions, it had to really shine to stave off battle fatigue and Dragon Derangement Disorder, and fortunately, shine it does. It’s almost like a dream collaboration by Bathory, Running Wild, Doomsword, and While Heaven Wept, and it’s just a slobberknocker of an epic metal melting pot. So noble, so regal, this is what classic metal is all about.
The only complaints I have are minor. Some songs could have been trimmed down a tad, especially the title track which seems to wind out, only to surge back for 4 more minutes, approximating the never-ending ending of LotR III: Return of the King. I could quibble and say the highs here are not quite as high as those on The White Goddess, but these are small matters, and what Atlantean Kodex has wrought is a mammoth victory. The band builds one colossal song after another, full of gripping moments and bold bravado, and the entirety of it is amazing to experience. Markus Becker outdoes himself, channeling John Arch and Hammerfall‘s Joachim Cans as he glides over the hefty riffs like an iron eagle, bringing trve metal to the filthy, oppressed masses. He’s the ringmaster in this legendary saga and takes the songs to places many frontmen couldn’t. Manuel Trummer and new axe Coralie Baier piledrive the album with thick, weighty riffs that straddle the doom and Viking genres adroitly. Their playing keeps the material heavy and full of gravitas no matter how melodic Becker’s vocals get1, while their restrained, tasteful and beautiful solo-work transports you to majestic mountain vistas and ancient battlegrounds now at peace. The entire band is in peak form, and they truly accomplished something special here.
The White Goddess was going to be a tough album to top, but Atlantean Kodex has indeed topped it with The Course of Empire. This is the crown jewel of their discography and cements their status as the premier epic metal masters, bar none. It’s a monolithic magnum opus, taking the best of traditional and extreme metal and forging them into the mightiest of war hammers. I’m highly impressed by this record and look forward to having a deep and abiding friendship with it over the coming decades. Guards, knights, squires, prepare for battle!
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Ván Records
Websites: atlanteankodex.de | atlanteankodex-vanrecords.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/atlantean-kodex
Releases Worldwide: September 13th, 2019