Lumen Ad Mortem – Upon the Edge of Darkness Review

Black metal is an enigma. The bastard sub-genre is both the one that lends itself to more creative combinations than any of its metal siblings (Pop-black! Jazz-black! Atmoblack! Blackgaze! etc. etc.), but is also the one most rigidly and stubbornly adherent to its basic tenets. In no place is this weird contradiction more evident than in Australian black metal, specifically Australian atmoblack metal. Music borne of ice and darkness finding fertile soil on an island of desert and sunshine. It should be preposterous, and yet, somehow, it works. Australian black metal is strong, and hoping to add their names to the list of Strayan luminaries is Lumen Ad Mortem (The Dying Light). Formed in 2019, Upon the Edge of Darkness is their debut, and promises grim melodies from the “floor of the Australian forest.” The question of whether Australia has forests or not crossed my mind, but over-analysis is rarely a good idea with metal.

First impressions were decidedly underwhelming, which is why the AMG “Three full listens minimum but really more if you don’t want Grier to shout at you” rule exists. This sounded like standard atmoblack, borrowing heavily from influences such as Wolves in the Throne Room, with some Emperor-esque orchestrations thrown in for good measure. We even have the “opening scary three-chord synthesizers to set the mood” cliché. There is clearly no attempt here to deviate from the blueprint established back in the 90s. Nothing wrong with that; that unbroke formula needs no fixing. But if originality is gone, you better bring the songwriting chops. Initially, I thought Lumen Ad Mortem had failed in this regard. Fortunately, additional listens revealed my early thoughts to be wrong.

The one thing that Upon the Edge of Darkness absolutely nails is its aesthetic. This collection doesn’t just sound evil and frozen, it sounds epically evil and frozen. There is an ominous frigidity here that is created through a skillful use of not only the bedrocks of black metal (tremolos and blast beats), but through a willingness to slow things down and let the music breathe. Atmosphere takes time and Lumen Ad Mortem are patient in establishing the world of their music. It pays off. Upon the Edge of Darkness feels icy and malevolent. But discovering this requires patience from the listener and a good set of headphones. Which explains why my first listen (in which I had neither) was underwhelming.

The downside to all this impressive atmosphere is that the songs often drag on just a little too long. Most are over 6 minutes, and could easily have been trimmed a minute or 2 without losing any impact. Indeed, you sense that some start to strain under their own durations, dragged on by needless repetition that dulls their impact. “Ethereal” is a fun track but just doesn’t have the riffs to sustain its nearly 9-minute length. Ditto the 7-minute “Thought and Memory,” which runs out of ideas halfway through and then huffs and puffs to the end. The collection, while solid with many highs, also has few truly knock-out moments to hook the listener and encourage repeat spins. As a result, Upon the Edge of Darkness sometimes drags and feels longer than its relatively brief 42 minutes. Some strict self-editing, and perhaps an additional banging track are needed to truly elevate the material.

Nevertheless, Upon the Edge of Darkness has something few debuts do: a confident and established sound. Lumen Ad Mortem have released a very credible first effort that crushes the aesthetic but needs some tinkering when it comes to the songwriting. Once again, an Australian collective has out-Scandinavian-ed many Scandinavian bands. Bands from those countries had better up their game because with some polish and direction, Lumen Ad Mortem could really be onto something.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Bitter Loss Records  |
Releases Worldwide: January 27th, 2023

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