Ok, be honest. If I told you today’s review was for a double album that clocked in at nearly 160 minutes and consisted of atmospheric blackened doom metal, what would you say? Well, the first thing you might say is that that sounds suspiciously like the opening of ol’ Doc Grier’s 2015 review of Shards of Silver Fade, the last record from Australian multi-instrumentalist Dis Pater, the one-man act that is Midnight Odyssey. And you’d be spot on. It is Grier’s first two sentences. When I picked up Midnight Odyssey, I did a quick check to see whether we’d run any reviews previously and, I’ll be honest, that line did fill me with something of a sinking feeling. Four years on from Shards finds Midnight Odyssey dropping Biolume Part I: In Tartarean Chains, the first part of a planned trilogy that will explore “themes of banishment and exile, of fallen gods and resentment, of sacrifice and despair.” Based on Midnight Odyssey’s track record to date, perhaps I should just thank my astral sphere that Pater is dropping these Biolumes one at a time, rather than as a triple album!
Clocking in at a “mere” 72 minutes, Biolume I is downright pithy. Still a depressing, bleak aural journey, taking as its basic building blocks atmospheric black metal and doom, the record demands your attention. This is not something you throw on in the background and wait to be grabbed by the hooks. There aren’t any. This is a slow-build sea of emotion into which, as Grier observed of previous outings, Pater has poured every ounce of hurt and pain. This remains the case despite the fact he’s exploring Hellenic myths and legends in the lyrics. Or perhaps it’s precisely because of this, and Pater identifies with that sense of banishment, isolation and having to find your own way in seemingly endless, darkened caverns.
Either way, the sweeping, icy, majestic soundscapes conjured here are driven by waves of synths, blast beats, simple but effective riffing, and a surprisingly varied vocal performance. While Midnight Odyssey’s clean vocals continue to summon the spirit of Quorthon, Pater has also found more of his own identity. There is no doubt that the rasped BM vocals have stepped up in quality from previous releases, sounding fuller and less like they were delivered underground. Biolume I also sees Midnight Odyssey giving the music more room to breathe, with the sometimes claustrophobic atmo-black sound giving way more often than on previous releases to almost goth-tinged doom or industrial influences. This is nowhere more apparent than on “A Storm Before a Fiery Dawn,” the standout track of the album for me, symphonic at times with huge Gothic choruses that really grabbed me.
For all its grandeur and the skill with which its components are stitched together, Biolume I has a couple issues, the main one still being length. OK, it is sub-2 hours but at nearly an hour and a quarter, brief it is not. For me, the trippy dark wave passages are overused and rob Biolume of a little of its impact. This is an inherent risk with one-man projects. On the one hand, you get to hear the undiluted emotions of one person distilled into musical form without censor but, on the other, you get to hear the undiluted emotions of one person distilled into musical form without censor. The other, lesser issue that I have lies with the title track. The last few minutes don’t work for me at all, with the clean, almost chanted vocals falling flat and clashing with the ambient background. The production is good though and a definite step up, with Midnight Odyssey sounding more textured here, particularly in the drum sound, which felt compressed on Shards, and the vocals hitting richer territory.
Don’t take from this review that the atmo-black sound of previous odysseys has been abandoned on Biolume I, it hasn’t. But it feels like Pater has brought more of his non-BM influences to bear, leaving him in a contemplative and mournful, rather than outright morose, space. This is perhaps best exemplified by percussion-free closer “Pillars in the Sky,” which, dare I say it, is an almost uplifting way to close out the latest Midnight Odyssey, as synths dance and swirl around echoing, multi-track vocals. I didn’t love Biolume I—something about it didn’t quite click on an emotional level for me—but I did really like it. And if Pater can deliver two more Biolumes of this quality, I am all in for this Odyssey.
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: I Voidhanger Records | Bandcamp
Websites: midnightodysseyofficial.com | facebook.com/midnightodyssey
Release Date: Digital: 11.01.2019 | EU: 2019.11.01 | NA: 11.08.2019