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The debut full-length album that started it all for Norwegian band Aeternus, Beyond the Wandering Moon. It's revered as a classic black metal album still to this day despite having been released over a decade ago, but has it aged well in that time frame and what made it such a monumental record in the first place?
Many things come to mind when the term black metal is brought up; corpse paint, forests, winter, snow, blood, goats, satanic paraphernalia, and darkness. It's rare to find any black metal group that can sing about winter and not have it sound cheesy or over the top, but compelling story telling is one thing that Aeternus have mastered. Beyond the Wandering Moon is a piece that has to be looked at in depth and given an attentive listen, as the story found within does wonders for the content at hand. Epic tales of winter are the subject of every track and they come to life in the imagination easily. This release also marks the introduction of Morrigan, a female entry into the ranks of Aeternus who took over the jobs of at long last adding bass to the material and the keyboards.
The instruments themselves can become monotonous every now and then when the tempo changes become scarce and the tracks seem to blend into one another, but there are a good range of patterns and beats impaled along the composures that show an infusion of both black and death metal elements. There are also a lot of Celtic influenced melodies just like in Dark Sorcery; an EP released by Aeternus in 1995. "Sworn Revenge" has a definite pagan feel to it just by the composure of the song and the more pronounced acoustic segments, and these segments are randomly sprinkled throughout the material. Ares' vocals aren't as deathly as they were in Dark Sorcery either, but he still has his own compelling manner of narrating a story and keeps the listeners attention on the tale at hand.
"Sworn Revenge", "Sentinels of Darkness", "Waiting for the Storms" and "Winter Tale" are some of the best songs from Beyond the Wandering Moon, having a variety of elements that makes each one unique. "Sworn Revenge" and "Sentinels of Darkness" have the most pagan feel to the instruments, and the latter is the most bass heavy song in the entire album. The vocals are also well done and melodic. "Waiting for the Storms" is just a dark and powerful track, while it lacks the Nordic vibe to the instruments the lyrics tell a completely different story that centers around a god of storms. "Winter Tale" is overall the darkest track listed and is one of the only ones where the keyboards come to an effective use and the entire song is slow, desolate and eerie; from the acoustic diminished chords at the beginning, through the chugging drone of the rest of the bass heavy song.
Beyond the Wandering Moon has barely stood the test of time when stacked up against other Aeternus releases but it is a good and memorable debut effort. Cold, desolate, daunting, everything black metal should be. There is a good use of atmosphere and a brilliant infusion of pagan influence, which would have been ground breaking for its time. Whether you're just getting to know about black metal or you've been a long time enthusiast, give this album a listen and you won't regret it. But just know, there are better releases by this band out there now.
- Villi Thorne