Raventale – Planetarium II Review

Raventale is a strange one-man act. Founder and multi-instrumentalist Astaroth Merc started the project in 2006 as a vehicle for his atmospheric, droning black metal, but over time the sound underwent massive mutations. Death/doom influences began creeping in and the musicianship grew by leaps and bounds. By the time of 2017s Planetarium, the project was starting to sound like a heavier SIG:AR:TYR, riffy and full of beautiful guitar-work while retaining a powerful black metal core. That album was based around a space theme and the long-form compositions did it justice with expansive vibes and deep, rich moods. For whatever reason, Merc opted to follow that up with a full-on funeral doom approach on 2019s Morphine Dead Gardens, which I loved muchly. Now barely a year later he’s clicked back into blackened mode with a conceptual sequel to Planetarium. In Merc’s own words this release “extends the analysis of extrapolation of cosmic mysteries, clandestine dimensions and extramundane weirdness. This is a deep and profound journey through the black wastelands of extraneous cosmos.” I don’t fully understand that puffery, but this is another humdinger of a release by an act that continues to surprise and impress.

As engaging intro “Sheen of Urania” takes life, it’s clear this isn’t the weighty funeral doom heard on Morphine Dead Gardens. It’s still doomy as Hell, but lighter, more melodic and melancholic. This is the rare intro I wish was longer, as the sullen riffing resonates in my heart ov Steel, recalling the halcyon days of Tales From the Thousand Lakes Amorphis. From there things jump into the compelling mix of melodic blackness, sadboi melodeath and Viking metal that makes up the bulk of Planetarium II. “Extra Terrestrial Arcana” is a wicked, writhing beast of a tune, offering icy black metal vocals alongside highly melodic melodeath that recalls Insomnium and Enshine. The guitar-work is stellar and often quite stunning and the blend of styles is top-notch, with disparate elements stitched together in a way that just works. A perfect example comes at 2:32 when things shift from blasting blackness to an epic lead riff that feels mammoth, majestic and oh so Finnish-melodeath inspired. “Route to Andromeda” is a near perfect synthesis of icy black metal, Bathory-esque Viking metal and melodic doom, taking the best parts of each to build a better monstrosity. This one really rustles my back hair and I keep spinning and respinning it.

“The Moon in the Seventh House” beefs up the melodic doom and mixes in darkwave goth sensibilities for a detour through Draconian territory that works exceptionally well, feeling morose and forlorn one moment, then buoyant and hopeful the next. “Let the Fire Burn!” goes full-on epic Viking metal, reminding me of SIG:AR:TYR, and like the intro, I wish it was several minutes longer. At 42:51, Planetarium II is an ideal length. It’s a pleasure to sit through and the rich variety of moods and atmospheres keep the listener engaged and interested. By opting to move away from the long-form writing of Planetarium, Merc has created bite-sized, easy to digest worlds to visit and it works in the material’s favor more often than not, though the album’s back half is slightly less stunning.

Astaroth Merc has grown so much as a writer and musician over the years that it’s hard to believe at times. The gorgeous guitar-work adorning the album deserves a lot of praise, but everything gels so well, from the keys to the vocals – he’s just a one-man wonder. The writing is slick and manages to walk the line between multiple genres while delivering material that doesn’t feel chaotic, disjointed or patched together. For that he deserves much goodwill. Some of the AMG staff have issues with the production and to my ears it’s a bit too clean, but it allows you to hear everything going on and this is a one-man act after all.

Raventale has given us two exceptional albums in two years covering two distinct genres.1 That’s an impressive accomplishment and one you don’t see much. Planetarium II is a beautifully crafted album of many moods, and it should be heard. This is an act that continues to evolve and grow in impressive ways and I certainly can’t wait to see what happens next. Get thee to the Planetarium (again) and be a laser gazer.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Ashen Dominion
Websites: raventale.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/raventaleofficial
Releases Worldwide: September 8th, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. And Planetarium was no joke either.
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