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I'll hand one thing to Aeternam from the outset: their sound is quite distinctive, making good use of their idiosyncratic characteristics and desert sand-hewn exotic melodic flair. The band's focus on Mesopotamian historical fare fuses coherently with the phrygian-influenced riffing and symphonic assaults. With many bands that hinge heavily on such a gimmick, the end result usually feels like an endless string of corny distractions, all basked in a forgetful heavy metal backdrop, which in itself is truncated by proxy due to the suffocating emphasis on all of the eclectic window dressing. Aeternam don't feel consciously tethered to any one specific metal template and dodge these shortcomings deftly, granting them the freedom to shake things up and keep the songs busy and exciting. This instantly puts them ahead of most of their peers.
Moongod is if anything a multifarious outing, doing much more than simply paraphrasing Nile or Melechesh; both comparisons many might make through ignorance. These comparisons to Aeternam are merely surface level at best due to the prevalence of Eastern-tinged melodies. The riffs shoot from the hip with little care for structural coherence, instead leaving the better bits to land as they may. From burly death metal to more melodic, power metal brilliance ensconced in symphonics that shine like a supernova; Moongod is stuffed to the gills with creativity. Although the orchestrations are hampered by that sterile, programmed feel, they are spectacularly implemented and not emphasized to the point of negative returns. Tunes like "Rise of Arabia" are smothered in an amalgam of soaring clean vocals, ethnic instrumentation used in moderation and a chug-centric melodeath carapace which on its own isn't amazing, but capable enough.
Focusing on the vocals for a moment, they are certainly eclectic and capable of excelling on many fronts. From the savage dynamics of the Nergal-esque death growls to the smooth cleans - a brilliant contrast is erected, most notably on "Rise of Arabia." The harsh vocals have to be one of the closest approximations of Apostasy-era Nergal I've come across. Alternatively, "Iram of the Pillars" focuses on the cleans, adding a spark of atmosphere to an album not necessarily lacking in it elsewhere. Moongod's heavier bits feel more like Behemoth than the other usual suspects as well, with tunes like "Xibalba" bordering on tech-death and fusing the cyclical bloodletting of Antoine Guertin's drumming with morose, brooding symphonic swaddling. His busy fills also help mitigate the weaker riffs, further offset by some nice, technical lead showcases.
Aeternam truly impressed me here. This had the potential to be just another gimmicky band with little of substance to offer, but I felt routinely enthralled when listening to Moongod. Thick, pummeling death metal straddled with busy symphonics; a fair agglomeration that doesn't eschew the fundamentals in the name of excess. Aeternam's acrobatic arsenal takes advantage of this dichotomy and delivers a well above average symphonic death metal outing, a style that often bores me due to a surprisingly lack of creativity within the supposed innovative confines of the subgenre. Worth a listen on Bandcamp at the very least.
Apart from the black metal scene, Quebecers are also known for adding strong, wise, and innovative death metal to the overall lot. Cryptopsy, Gorguts, Martyr and many others have developed their own sound, their own trademark over the decades. Aeternam sprouted from Montreal and is yet another upcoming work of brilliance. The band was formed in 2007 by young students--musicians who met at university. Between studying and recording sessions, it took them around three years to write their first effort, Disciples of the Unseen, which was released on Metal Blade records. Being on a big label requires many compromises. Aeternam do not have the time to play tons of shows or go on tours like they could back in the day--this was mentioned by the vocalist in an interview. Finally, the band ends up releasing their second album on Galy Records, which is a fantastic idea to me because Moongod is just as good as its predecessor. It has better song writing, and that means that the band gained more maturity while providing support to a local scene and label. Awesome!
I said innovative. Yea, you read that right. Why? The lyrics! They are the first thing that piqued my curiosity. Aeternam's lyrical subjects spans stories about ancient civilizations to Arabic religion and mythological wars/battles--particulary towards the ancient Egyptian dynasty. On Disciples of the Unseen, the song Goddess of Masr praises the reign of Akhenaten and his great royal wife, Nefertiti. The subject matter of Moongod is very similar; it is exactly more of the same. I personally think it is innovative and quite refreshing from the usual death metal tropes of: gore, horror, blasphemy, insanity, darkness, violence etc. I love cranking Cannibal Corpse, I fucking do--don't get me wrong. But why not take a break and learn about something else with Aeternam? The best thing about this band it the amount of time they put into their lyrics; it makes them outstanding for increasing your knowledge on these esoteric topics.
In regard to the production, nothing has changed since the last full length. It is clean and very polished. This makes for an effective listen where all instruments are well balanced. For example, the layered vocals, while quite substantial in the mix, are never too loud or overpowering; they just are perfectly audible and serve to enhance the overall "epicness" of the album. I personally don't mind the programmed vocals in the choruses, as they help to accent the middle-eastern vibe.
Now, In terms of song writing and skills, Aeternam are untouchable. I appreciate their main formula, which consists of: catchy, mostly midpaced hooks, and melodic riffs--making great use of classic tremolo (many pinch harmonics) death metal riffs. The drumming alternates between brutal blasting and more moderate drumming-- you're not going to find a 240 bpm Gene Hoglan maniac on here. The band has written some really fast and brutal parts that manage to create some very intense moments. These are perfectly juxtaposed with some very progressive mid-breaks, where the tempo transitions and their liberal use of the keyboard in the background helps to completely change the mood from the faster, more brutal sections. We've also got some worthy solos. I counted three and my favorite one is on the self-titled track. There is no tapping, no sweep picking, and you can hear every single note he picks--even when it's extremely fast. The solos are simply impeccable and are a great add on to the oriental mood present in the songs.
This is fucking epic. I recall saying this once and I'll say this again: EPIC. A suitable demonstration of this term is to be found on the ending, Hubal, Profaner of Light. A killer song on all fronts and it's probably the best song on the album. It's just a great way to summarize the whole atmosphere on here: pan flutes, clean guitars, fucking riffs, fucking blastbeats, and an angry Nergal-like vocalist who has crushingly powerful vocal chords! The song, Iram of the Pillar, is another fine piece of work crafted by the genius of their front-man, who has a large influence on the band. It is an interesting three minute interlude that mixes all types of instruments and demonstrate the real sound of the band--what Aeternam is all about.
Overall, Aeternam's Moongood is an experience that is stimulating. They really bring something new to the genre--which is an exceptional complement given the current state of Death Metal and, indeed, metal in general. They have had their own folk-infused sound since their first album, and this is following the same great folk trend. I hope the band sticks to their formula because it's what makes them unique, and I expect many great things to come. Clean production, amazing lyrics--that, quite frankly, give your brain a workout--memorable song writing, top notch musical execution for this style of death metal (this ain't technical and it doesn't need to be) are all the characteristics that coalesce into the great experience that is Moongod. I can't think of any comparisons for this band--except maybe some influence from Melechesh and Orphaned Land. Aeternam doesn't sound like any other band you've heard before. This is precisely why you should get your ears on this. A boatload of fun and headbanging is guaranteed!
Moongod was released quietly at the end of 2012 on Galy Records. This is the second opus from Quebec City’s Aeternam, whose previous album Disciples of the Unseen has been supported by none other than the heavyweight Metal Blade Records machine. With the change of label came a change of line-up, but despite the turbulences Ashraf Loudiy (vocals, guitars) and Antoine Guertin (drums, vocals, sampling) nonetheless pulled one of the best Canadian metal albums of 2012.
If The Prince of Egypt movie soundtrack had been composed by Kataklysm or Borknagar, I’m sure it would have sounded like Moongod. In my opinion, it is a great gem but an alien style to Canada. Its rich symphonic arrangements and middle-eastern topics are directly pointing to the international community (and market) of archeological diggers such as Arkan, Nile, or Melechesh, although Moongod will without a doubt find its own niche in the heart of our Great White North metalheads. Kudos here to the excellent artwork designed by artist Pascal Laquerre (Kataklysm, Eclipse, Merciless Terror) that will draw additional attention with its occult ancient civilization references.
Like many ‘symphonic’ metal albums, keyboards and programming are predominant on Moongod, without overwhelming any of the other instruments. The drum is ultra polished, offering the essential bass drum and snare skeleton to the overall composition, and leaving all cymbals far away in the mix. Guitars are central to the structures (take for example “Rise of Arabia”), and as heavy as any of your favorite metal band. While having a strong rhythm section and relatively straightforward riffs for a death metal band, the guitar arrangements alone are rather sober, thus cleverly leaving a lot of place to vocals and sampling (same technique as Novembers Doom, for example). We find a few original solos worth mentioning, such as on the songs “Cosmogony”, “Idol of the Sun” and “Xibalba”, but the real lead section is driven by an impressive range of vocals (death growl, clean and choirs) and programming. These elements are so important that mid-way through the album we find a vocal-and-percussion song called “Iram of the Pillars” where a horde of Egyptian Quebecers gathered in the studio to add to the atmosphere.
The ‘symphonic metal’ tag of Aeternam comes from the layers of arrangements and vocals, as mentioned earlier, a technique that gives a lot of melody and makes it highly accessible. This is why I got hooked the first time I spinned Moongod, and the reason why it will be enjoyed by all types of audiences. Highly recommended.
Originally written for blog.metalmadeincanada.ca