Midnight Odyssey – Biolume Part 2: The Golden Orb Review

In November 2019, I picked up the Midnight Odyssey-reviewing baton from a tired and broken Dr A.N.Grier, who had aged a number of cat years during his time with the 160-minute beast, Shards of Silver Fade. By contrast, I was able to listen to its successor, and first episode in a planned trilogy, Biolume Part 1: In Tartarean Chains, twice through and still have time for a 15-minute power nap, in the time it took poor Grier to labor his way through Shards. For anyone who thought this was a sign that Australian gloomster and one-man Odyssey, Dis Pater, had learned to curb his more expansive tendencies, however, Pater has all 102 minutes of Biolume Part 2: The Golden Orb to tell you otherwise. Reading some of the love for previous Odysseys, however, for many, it’s the very scale of Pater’s compositions that make them what they are. Does The Golden Orb scale new heights or is it just a long, winding road to nowhere?

Where In Tartarean Chains was a bleak and somber tale of lost light in the deepest, darkest depths of Hellenic mythology, The Golden Orb is a tale of light. It deals with being “confronted and embraced by nothing but light,” says Pater and “it’s a harsh and uncomfortable place of being [and] atop his golden chariot is the Sun God himself, punishing with heat and thirst, drought and drying winds.” This shift of focus, from darkness to light, also sees a new(ish) Midnight Odyssey. The Golden Orb continues the journey begun on In Tartarean Chains – not just thematically but also musically – as the first part of the Biolume trilogy introduced elements of grand gothic doom into the altogether more claustrophobic atmospheric black metal of Shards. On The Golden Orb, the blinding light has burned away pretty well all traces of black metal, with only a few scant moments remaining (like on “Rise of Thunder”).

In its place, Midnight Odyssey brings an expansive, almost symphonic sense of grandeur that reaches film-score like proportions at times (halfway through 20-minute opener “Dawn-Bringer”). These glorious moments are hedged about with the doom metal stylings of the likes of Scald and Solstice, moments of galloping traditional heavy metal (“Below Horizon”) and something approaching ambient drone (closer “When the Fires Cool” and the opening of “The Saffron Flame”). There are undoubtedly elements of Bathory still present also but think Nordland I and II, with the rawer elements buffed to an almost gleaming edge. It’s hard, in the confines of a review like this, to do more than convey the sound and approach of The Golden Orb. Any attempt to even describe some of the nine tracks, of which five comfortably clear the ten-minute mark, would turn this into a dissertation worthy of AMG himself. The record positively swells, as tides of synths and horns ebb and flow, around a mixed vocal performance from Pater taking in everything from mesmerizing ceremonial chants, to high, ringing cleans and a rough growl that borders on, but stops short of, a rasp. The drumming is restrained, with only a few instances of – I assume – programmed blasts creeping in, while guitars are also used sparingly across the record.

The sheer scope of Midnight Odyssey’s ambition on The Golden Orb cannot be denied. It’s a massive, sprawling record with moments of true beauty, that does capture something of the sense of being bathed in light. Yet, what I wanted more of was what Pater’s own description of this album promised, of being in a “harsh and uncomfortable place,” of “drought and drying.” That sense felt sorely lacking, however, with the only challenging or uncomfortable thing about The Golden Orb being its length. And let’s talk about length. What’s that saying: it’s not about the size but how you use it? Someone tell Dis Pater. There is a lot to like about The Golden Orb but there is also a lot of The Golden Orb and, quite frankly, there isn’t enough substance to justify it. The fantastic moments here (a gloriously melodic and repeating lead on that begins at about 6:50 on “The Chains become Mine,” being just one example that I noticed on my latest spin) are lost, stranded in the wastes of Midnight Odyssey’s ambient desert. This is not to say, as I am sure I will be accused of, that there is a maximum permissible length for an album1 but if you’re going anywhere near the 100 minute mark, there needs to be more than moments of brilliance. I will say that the production captures the all-enveloping nature of what being2 bathed in light might be like, with a warm and rich sound, containing real depth in all the varied instrumentation.

I liked In Tartarean Chains quite a bit. I lamented its length slightly but felt that with it, Midnight Odyssey had set out an interesting and very promising stall for this trilogy. Sadly, The Golden Orb represents a backward step, in my view, as there is not enough substance or variation to justify the sheer length of Pater’s composition. Nor does what is here have the harsh edge that his message suggests ought to be present, often offering instead a sort of symphonic ambience that I could work to just fine but be left utterly unmoved by. The record manages to be both daunting and safe simultaneously. I went into The Golden Orb with an open mind, risking potential sunburn from such prolonged exposure but was left principally with a comfortable but unfulfilling sense of lethargy.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: I, Voidhanger Records
Websites: midnightodysseyofficial.com | facebook.com/midnightodyssey
Releases Worldwide: March 19th, 2021

Show 2 footnotes

  1. My 2019 album of the year was Cult of Luna’s 80-minute colossus A Dawn to Fear.
  2. Interestingly, it’s right here that this review crosses the maximum permissible length for a review. Still, I’ve started, so I’ll finish.
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