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I remember a year ago, when Aeternus were considered a crappy brutal death band by a great majority of tasteful critics. Nobody seemed to have any idea about their beautiful first two offerings. When those were finally brought to the forefront on the message boards I frequent, still there was barely a mention of their third recording, Shadows of Old. That was the album with which they supposedly changed styles, so of course I figured that it wasn’t worth getting. Bollocks to that – this rules!
It’s certainly not as dense, atmospheric, subtle or interesting as the previous two releases but hey, neither are any other metal albums bar about 5 or 6 at the most. Death metal with a clear sense of ancient spirit, plenty of variation in tempo, plenty of acoustic folk melodies and piano passages, transitions between the epic and the brutal, quite a bit of subtlety and changes in mood - that’s what’s on offer here. This certainly doesn’t feel like a failed attempt at capturing the essence of earlier offerings - rather a conscious decision to follow a different direction, and one that’s executed rather impressively, at that.
There are still sections of folk-orientated passages drifting ambiently over pulsating slow-paced drumming, but now there are far more blasting sections and aggressive melodies. Blasting can be a bad thing, but it can also be used to create great ambience, and of course Aeternus do little but, as per usual. From start to finish it’s spiritually sound despite the sacrifice of atmosphere for intensity – a very ancient aura oozes from the music. Some of the melodic ideas are not so far from The Chasm’s great school of thought, while others would fit on Aeternus’ marvellous previous albums, and perhaps earlier CDs by Amorphis and Sacramentum. There’s even a touch of old-school Norwegian black to be found. Let’s not forget, though, that it’s all integrated into intense Florida-styled death metal.
I’m actually going to give this a score in the high 70s, I like it quite a bit. It’s still ambient and subtle albeit somewhat less so, it’s epic with an extra dash of brutality, but above all else it is the essence of ancient spirit that really draws me in. And, as a sidenote, there’s those fucking brilliant vocals – Ares is a man at the top of his trade. “Descend to the Underworld” and “Dark Rage” are probably the highlight songs though my opinion of this will probably change.
So don’t get me wrong, it’s not nearly as good as the two before, but I admire the fact that they’ve clearly gone for a different sound here and, once again, they’ve pulled it off pretty darn well. Who knows, maybe in a couple of months when I’ve got “Ascension of Terror”, I’ll be writing another review of praise. Surely they went bad at some point, though, or have you all been telling me fibs?
Aeternus turned me into an instant fan with their first two albums, "Beyond the Wandering Moon" and "...And So the Night Became", so it was with great eagerness that I picked up their third full-length release "Shadows of Old" the second I saw it for sale. On the first listen, though, I was greatly disappointed - it seemed that they had traded their own unique atmosphere for more speed and brutality. I persevered, though, giving it a few more spins, and ultimately I grew to like it quite a bit. It is true that the band has toned down it’s tendency to write longer songs and include more repetitive/hypnotic/atmospheric parts, moving more into faster and brutal, almost death- metallish territory. After digesting it some, though, I noticed that the atmosphere is still present, just ‘intensified’, being more ‘angry’ than simply ‘reflective’(for lack of better words). Right off the bat the album starts with some relentless blasting on the opening cut "Under the Eternal Blackened Sky" (and I mean RIGHT at the start - not even single second of intro music...), and it doesn’t let up until somewhere in the middle of track two or three. There are some of the longer, slower, hypnotic passages in some of the later songs, and they also include some nicely melodic riffs and acoustic-only intros to later songs, but overall this album is faster and heavier than their first two albums. It does take time to grow on you, but once it does you’ll like it just as much as the first two.
Almost-unrelated side note - it’s unfortunate to see that the whole ‘take off the corpse paint for a totally gay look’ trend has infected Aeternus as well. As if the cover wasn’t bad enough, the member photos inside the booklet are just beyond gay...except for Morrigan and her plastic pants and tank-top, of course...) Don’t let that sway you away from the music though - this album rocks.
(Originally published at LARM (c) 2000)