Welcome satanic hordes to another installment of Within The Abyss. Each month we review black metal albums from bands from all over the globe in numerous styles such as folk/black metal, blackened death metal and bands more aligned to traditional black metal. This month’s reviews include new albums by Ancient Wisdom, Gorgon, Morgarten, Sojourner, Sxuperion, Vincent Crowley and Winter Eternal.
Ancient Wisdom – A Celebration Of Honor In Death (Avantgarde)
Although originally containing more than one member, Vargher is now the sole member of Ancient Wisdom. Playing in Bewitched and Naglfar, he’s a fixture in Sweden’s extreme metal scene. Although he formed Ancient Wisdom in 1993, he hasn’t released an album since 2004. Now, he returns with another atmospheric/symphonic black metal opus via A Celebration In Honor Of Death.
It is not a fast, blast-beating, tremolo picked album. It functions at a medium to slow, semi-doomy pace. Less riff-oriented than earlier albums, guitars thump (“The Coronation”), and are melodic, disharmonic, and doomy (“Breaking the Circle of Life.”) Diverse keys define the album’s gothic atmosphere. Bells, ethereal keys, organ, choirs and piano (“And God Saw”) shape the album’s tone. Vocal refrain make the album catchy as heard on “Breaking the Circle of Life,” “Towards Your Destruction” and the album title vocalized on “The Coronation.” A Celebration Of Honor In Death excels in its gothic sensibilities.
Gorgon – Traditio Satanae (Osmose)
France’s Gorgon were on hiatus for most of the new millennium, but made a comeback in 2019 with The Veil of Darkness. Their latest offering, Traditio Satanae marks 30 years since the French band formed. It is a fitting title since the album is very much in line with the traditional sound of black metal’s second wave.
Gorgon put their best cloven hoof forward on the first track “Blood of Sorcerer.” A brief intro of feedback leads right into this speedy track. Machine-gun style vocal lines, blasting drums and swift picking define this song. The chorus line is very catchy too on this brief song. Tracks such as “Let Me See Behind” and “The Long Quest” follow similar, scorching paths with emotional guitars. Other tracks follow a mid-paced motion, even a hint of black ‘n’ roll on “Entrancing Cemetery.” Compared to earlier efforts, Traditio Satanae is a stripped-down-yet-polished version of Gorgon that shows the band are truly back.
Morgarten – Cry Of The Lost (Inner Wound)
Swiss black/folk faction Morgarten return with their sophomore album Cry Of The Lost. It is a concept album about the legend of Swiss hero Arnold von Winkelried. The group chose specific historical events to create this musical, medieval novel. The epic quality of the music properly conveys this hero story.
Cry Of The Lost is built around majestic keyboards. The mixed was handled by Jens Bogren who is known for working with Dimmu Borgir. “Sons of Darkness” definitely brings to mind Dimmu Borgir including a mischievous ending section. Vocally, Pierric combines blackened rasp with robust cleans. Pierric and other members create choirs for mead swinging moments. Pierric also plays bag pipes, which are paired with tribal drumming on “Tales of My Lands.” Pierric and Ilann create much of the medieval sound through guitar harmonies. Cry Of The Lost is a regal album that will appeal to fans of Ensiferum and Eluveitie.
Sojourner – Perennial (Napalm)
Following last year’s Premonitions album, Sojourner return with the Perennial EP. In addition to the “Perennial” single, a second song appears,” Relics of the Natural Realm,” which is a sequel to the band’s first song “Heritage of the Natural Realm.” Both tracks paint exquisite images of nature untapped by humanity’s hand because humanity has become extinct. Each of the tracks feature tranquil melodies that coexist with black metal and folk harmonies.
The title track is filled with contrast. Male and female vocals, soft and hard vocals, distorted and clean instrumentation, and tempo changes all add a dichotomous feel to this track. Guitars, flutes and piano instill melody, while the drums can be very fast and callous. While “Relics of the Natural Realm” shares many of the same characteristics as its predecessor, this song is slower and more tranquil. The track also has a hint of male clean vocals. Perennial is another fine example of finding beauty in darkness.
Sxuperion – Auscultating Astral Monuments (Bloody Mountain)
Matthew, also known as Lord Sxuperion, has been busy with Sxuperion. Handling all instruments, Auscultating Astral Monuments is his third album in as many years. Each has shown him stay true to his cosmic, blackened death metal vision. Once again, he ventures further into the darkest recesses of outer space, landing into a black hole of infinite darkness.
While Auscultating Astral Monuments is mostly a harsh death metal album, there is a blackened aura attachment. Much of the blackness comes from the synth and eerie guitar ring outs. His guitar is tuned low, churning in the primordial abyss. The deep presence of the guitar is matched by his low, unintelligible vocals. Comparisons to Incantation and Immolation are not without basis, but the atmosphere is distinct to Sxuperion. I like the noises and vibe of the album, but the murkiness of the vocals and guitar become a bit monotonous after a few minutes.
Vincent Crowley – Beyond Acheron (Odium)
Vincent Crowley is a well-known name in death metal circles as leader of the early Tampa, Florida blackened death metal group Acheron. They have dissolved and Crowley presents his first solo album, Beyond Acheron, which retains some of the blackened death of Acheron, but also draws influence from thrash and doom.
Satanic themes of Acheron aren’t apparent with this debut. He based his lyrics around morbid themes. Doomy tempos realize these death motifs. A good example is the necrophilia lyrics and gothic organ of “My Eternal Vow” There is a Poe-ish quality to his songs, especially The Masque of the Red Death-inspired “Masquerade Du Macabre.” Beyond Acheron has a double meaning, actually referencing the river of mythical lore, with the title track intro and “Where No Light Shines.” Crowley takes more of a black metal approach to his vocals than with Acheron. Guitar solos and harmonies are abundant on this morbidly moody album.
Winter Eternal – Land Of Darkness (Hells Headbangers)
Much of Winter Eternal, from band name to album title Land of Darkness to the accompanying album art would make one think the band hail from the coniferous, ice-crusted forests of Scandinavia. However, Soulreaper started the band in Athens, Greece and then moved to Scotland. His musical vision is closer to ‘90s Swedish and Norwegian black metal. Also expect an affinity for old school heavy metal with hints of Hellenic black metal.
While seemingly more influenced by Norway than his previous album Realm Of The Bleeding Shadows, Sweden’s influence is still strong, bringing to mind Dissection, early Naglfar and Gates of Ishtar (check out his excellent cover of Gates of Ishtar’s “Dawn of Flames.”) Melody is a major factor including melancholy violin on “Crown of Stars” and instrumental “Shaped By Grief.” Land Of Darkness would have fit well in the mid-nineties.