Love at first listen. Is there any better feeling? Byzantine Horizons and I have been nearly inseparable since the album first came into my hands. I’d never heard of Crown of Autumn before that happy day, but between the cool band name and awesome cover art, I really didn’t have much choice but to investigate. Byzantine Horizons is the band’s third full-length since 1997, nearly eight years after Splendours From the Dark in 2011. Describing the music they play is a bit of a challenge; the promo I received says “epic dark metal,” but I’m not sure I agree. I’m hesitantly calling this “progressive melodeath,” though I’m not certain of that either. So I’m going to dispense with the labeling altogether and call this what it is: a seriously beautiful metal album.
I can’t help but wonder how much of the eight years between Splendours From the Dark and now saw Crown of Autumn working on this album. It is immediately obvious that someone has spent a lot of time here. Whether in the pristine production, the master that gives everything enough room to breathe, or the song structures themselves, painstaking attention to detail is present in every minute of Byzantine Horizons. Throughout the album, the stellar sound quality never wavers. The bass is always audible, but never intrusive. Guitars are given different places in the mix for strumming, leads, picking, and heavy chords. No song on Byzantine Horizons is purely “heavy;” even songs like “Scepter and Soil,” which hit the ground running and angry, eventually pause for a few moments of quiet contemplation, and the balance struck is an impressive feat for an album of this nature.
Byzantine Horizons is earnest and beautiful, its sound simple and direct, with passion and contemplation being the clear focuses of the music. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the vocal department. Vocals are split between three of the band’s four members: Milena Saracino’s clean singing, Emanuele Rastelli’s harsh roars and accented cleans, and “melodic” backing vocals from Gianluigi Girardi. Nearly every song makes natural use of all three singers. I don’t think anyone hearing their voices would assume that they sing in a metal band, and some of the heavier passages utilizing Rastelli’s cleans sound a little awkward — but it really doesn’t matter. The passion these musicians have for what they’re doing is palpable in every moment, and the same is true of the instruments they play as well.
Traditionally, this penultimate paragraph is where I’d start criticizing things, but I’m not sure what I’d want to criticize. This is an album that offers nearly everything I like in my metal: it’s heavy, evocative, emotional, and cathartic. “Lo Sposo Dell’Orizzonte” is stunningly beautiful, carried to outstanding heights by Saracino’s emotional singing. “Cyclopean” is a great example of stripped-down metal, relying on the passionate delivery of its singers to convey its contemplative, woeful tale. On the other side of the spectrum, “Whores for Eleusis” is heavy and dark, with verses driven by a throaty narration and awesome-sounding bass. “Everything Evokes” is heavier still, with Rastelli’s vicious roars racing Mattia Stancioiu’s drums for prominence in the verses. Even here, the chorus is delivered with Saracino’s cleans but ends up feeling no less heavy for it. Everything on Byzantine Horizons achieves balance with the whole, making this an engaging album from start to finish.
I hope I won’t have to wait eight years to hear from Crown of Autumn again because Byzantine Horizons is one of the most honest, earnest, and refreshing metal albums I’ve heard in years. It has been some time since I’ve wanted to describe a metal album using a word like “beautiful,” but here it is. Byzantine Horizons is a beautiful metal album, whatever genre it may be, and you can bet I’ll be revisiting this one for a long time hence.