Atramentus – Stygian Review

Bearing the “gift” of immortality bestowed to him by the God’s sword, a lone knight trudges across the land, snow crunching beneath his feet with every heavy, weary step. After witnessing the death of the sun and thus all life on Earth perishing, he’s left with no choice but to travel the frozen lands alone, forcing him to recall painful memories of the loss of those he loved, forever trapped under miles upon miles of ice. Now that‘s a hefty premise for a debut album, and it would take an equally hefty delivery to even give it a whiff of justice. But Atramentus, the Canadian funeral doom act consisting of members of Chthe’ilistFunebrarum, and Gevurah (among others), spent a good length of time, constructing this album’s premise as far back as the band’s formation in 2012. Stygian is the end result of their labor.

And over the course of just three songs totaling over 45 minutes, they most certainly laid down one of the heaviest pieces of funeral doom I’ve heard in a long time. The two bookends of the album provide the bulk of Stygian’s considerable length, clocking in at a whopping 40 minutes of top-shelf funeral doom. Opening with a mournful harpsichord, “Stygian I: From Tumultuous Heavens… (Descended Forth the Ceaseless Darkness)”1 lurches menacingly forward, darkening your mood with an onslaught of heavy riffs by Claude Leduc and Phil Tougas (both Chthe’ilist), with Tougas growling, howling, and chanting in forlorn agony. It never progresses faster than a menacing creep, and that’s fine, as Atramentus feels fine with suffocating you with oppressive riffs, a stifling atmosphere, and the wonderful feeling of bad shit not letting up anytime soon. There’s no sunshine here. It’s dead, remember?

Closing track (and album highlight) “Stygian III: Perennial Voyage (Across the Perpetual Planes of Crying Frost & Steel-Eroding Blizzards)”2 contains the only portion loosely resembling speed and urgency near the end of its gigantic 23 minutes, but even then the song doesn’t bore you, as the riffs and soaring guitar solos throughout the song keep you intrigued. Once it ends with gusts of wind whipping you along with a capella chanting, you’re left feeling drained and exhausted, yet you don’t realize that 26 minutes have gone by (or 45, if you’re listening to Stygian in one go).3 Even the instrumental bridge, “Stygian II: In Ageless Slumber (As I Dream in the Doleful Embrace Of the Howling Black Winds)” impresses, as keyboardist François Bilodeau layers the track with enough ambient touches to convincingly portray the changing of autumn into winter.4

Not much can be said in terms of anything bad on Stygian. Sure, the drums could use a little bit of heft in places (with the notable exception of “Stygian I…”‘s closing thumpathon), and a bit more melody here-and-there could carry things a little more efficiently, but this is funeral doom, dammit. That Mariusz Lewandowski-trademarked ominously cloaked figure on the cover isn’t guiding the nameless knight to Disneyland, after all. Also, this isn’t an album to spin on a whim, or grab a listen in pieces. Stygian demands your full attention and the proper mood for all 45 of its creepy, crawly minutes, and your ass isn’t going anywhere until the chanting fades to oblivion.

And you will want to do so if you’re the type that loses yourself to the soundscapes of Evoken and Mournful Congregation. Stygian might be a demanding, draining listen, but given the proper amount of attention and the right mindset, it will reward you. Atramentus took their dear, sweet time in crafting Stygian, and the level of care and depth commands any funeral doom fan to absorb it, feel it, and breathe it in. Besides, you should stay out of the sun, anyways.


Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: 20 Buck Spin
Releases Worldwide: August 21st, 2020

Show 4 footnotes

  1. Ow, my word count…
  2. No, not that Steel.
  3. Which is highly, highly recommended.
  4. Even though there’s no autumn. Because no sun.
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