Written By: Nameless N00b_15
I am having a wonderful start to the year as I’m entering the tail end of my (undergraduate) college career, my research project is going well, and I’ve started dating an amazing woman. However, January has been… slow for quality metal releases. Can Hecate Enthroned buck the trend and save us all? Embrace of the Godless Aeon is the sixth album from these Brits as they push past the twentieth year in their recording career. Coming off a five year release gap and sporting a new vocalist, is there any hellfire left in their demonic well of blackened death metal?
The first thing you should know is that the blackened death tag is at best incomplete and at worst misleading. This is made abundantly clear by the expectation shattering opener “Ascension” that greets the ears with music box and orchestral string samples for just over 90 seconds. The true opener, “Revelations in Autumn Flame” goes in the complete opposite direction, blasting out of the gates with nearly Zos Kia Cultus levels of aggression. Thus is revealed the great dichotomy of this album. Good, possibly great metal, bogged down by a less than inspired orchestral counterpart that does not do its fair share of the work.
This album is very much a tale of two sounds. The metal is both immediately gratifying and robust under scrutiny, while the orchestrations are all bark and no bite. They feature heavily on almost every single track, from the almost cinematic strings on “Silent Conversations with Distant Stars” and lead single “Temples that Breathe” to more atmospheric work on “Whispers of the Mountain Ossuary” and several other tracks. They aren’t as crucial compositionally as the orchestra is to a Septic Flesh or Fleshgod Apocalypse, but the prevalent usage in down and up tempo moments can’t be ignored. The most confounding thing is that for the amount of mileage the band is trying to get out of the orchestra, they only used high pitch string arrangements. The use of church bells and a sinister choral arrangement on closer “Erebus and Terror” exemplifies what could have been accomplished with a more diverse set of orchestrations, but it passes as quickly as it arrives. There are many times throughout Embrace of the Godless Aeon that I think you could remove the orchestrations and the song would not be hurt.
The good news is that the music the orchestrations got tacked onto is very good. Guitarists Nigel and Andy lay out a feast of deathly riffs and blackened tremolos on all the tracks, and new front man Joe delivers a good variety of shrieks and growls, though his upper range sounds weak at times. In contrast to the almost certainly sampled orchestrations, the piano segments provided by Pete are wonderful, particularly on “Enthrallment” and “Goddess of the Dark Misfits,” which also features the wonderful vocal talents of Sarah Jezebel Deva1 in a duet with Joe. Additionally, the production is quite good, giving a fair share of the sonic spectrum to all instruments, sampled or otherwise. The only quibble I have is that the cymbals and splashes sound downright sad at points throughout the album, like a high pass filter got applied a little too liberally
Hecate Enthroned delivered an album I had a very difficult time rating. I usually go through about three drafts before I have a workable product, but I rewrote this one seven times as I ruminated on the appropriate response. Should I excoriate Embrace of the Godless Aeon for trying too hard with unnecessary yet mostly harmless orchestrations or praise it for delivering killer blackened death metal that just so happens to have mediocre orchestral accompaniment? For once I find myself wishing that a band had been more enthusiastic in their application of an orchestra. Still, they deserve some credit for the amazing feat of making me feel an emotion towards black metal other than abject apathy.