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I must admit, that when I first picked this CD up, on the word of the various glowing reviews I had seen all over the net, I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it. From the rather odd genre labels I had heard slapped on this band, from “extreme symphonic” to “epic heavy metal” and even black metal, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was in for. Combine that with rather curious, completely over-the-top artwork and a logo that looked to belong to a black metal band, I was quite confused. So, with this feeling of curious puzzlement still persisting, I planted this disc in my player. I went in to it inquisitive and came out dazed and overwhelmed.
The music that was locked away behind that eye-catching cover was really like nothing I had ever heard. It had that bombastic power metal feel, mixed with a vocabulary that would terrify your average high school student, and the atmosphere of an epic sci-fi opera – replete with multiple characters, sizable dialogue and a progressive storyline. And even with my rudimentary knowledge of black metal, after listening to it, I could see how it might be tagged as such. I must admit, that after listening to the whole thing, I was quite inundated with the sheer amount that was going on here, both musically, lyrically, and in the vocabulary. And so, The Power Cosmic was destined to sit, gathering dust for a time, while my feeble brain tried to comprehend its multifaceted music. But, much like the power of the Lexicon, it could not remain forgotten for long. And so I returned, beckoned by the siren call of an epic piece of metal that would not be forgotten, and while I had not the icosahedron to guide me, I still found how to appreciate the power of this sublime album.
At this point, I am speaking to those uninitiated in the mannerisms of Bal-Sagoth, so those who have previous experience with this band may disregard this paragraph. But to those of you whose virgin ears have not yet been graced by the majesty of this music, I will tell you this: to appreciate this album, you must abandon any preconceptions you may have. Judge not on appearance, nor listen to the naysayers, for they are naught but as the flaccid lickspittles that guard our trivial Tellurian sphere, and they shall be swept away by the splendor of these Hyperborean warriors! Instead, clear your minds of any preceding thought, and abandon attempts to classify the music. Simply let the symphonic splendor wash over you, as the intro “The Awakening of the Stars” guides you slowly into a sprawling world of antediluvian demigods, colossal antagonists, and cosmic consequences.
Musically, there is an abundance of energy here. Every song sounds inspired, and the band seems full of vigor. Moreover, they sound like they’re having fun, which is exactly what you’ll have, as soon as “The Voyagers Beneath the Mare Imbrium” starts. All the songs here are filled with copious amounts of energetic, headbang inducing velocity. Don’t come expecting any showy solos, there aren’t any. But you can definitely expect to be swept up in an enthusiastic, grandiose atmosphere, something Bal-Sagoth are experts at creating.
From a conceptual standpoint, most of the songs are part of a unified storyline to them that features an imprisoned demigod by the name of Zurra, breaking free of his shackles and deciding that it’s high time he took his rightful place as the biggest bad-ass on the cosmic block. Thusly, the stage is set for our grand celestial opera to unfold. I won’t spoil it for you, but this grand yarn employs enough larger-than-life characters (who all seem to possess the lexis of an English professor) and objects of vast power to make an experienced fantasy buff’s head spin. Byron Roberts does an impressive job of voicing all these characters, throughout their tangled web of interplay and extensive dialogue, all while retaining the various outlooks and aims of each character. He alternates between voicing the narrative and different characters, while alternating between clean and black metal vocals. There’s really no way you can’t love his singing, from his detached narrative, to the vengeful malevolence with which he spits such classic lines as “I shall condemn your flaccid essence to a dimension of unparalleled pain!” or “Stray not into my darksome embrace, lest I grind my jaws on your soul!” and, of course, that classic line, “I was ancient when your ancestors were naught but protoplasmic slime!”.
Really, that is what makes this album so great. It compromises absolutely nothing, not musically, linguistically or conceptually. In fact, it goes above and beyond, opting for an approach that is so bombastically far-flung, and just plain out there, that you can’t help but respect it. It’s like a spectacular, outer-space Manowar, magnified to the nth power; an enormous hyperbole that is hopelessly endearing because it’s not afraid to be such. The music is masterfully played and brimming with energy, the lyrics reek of awesomeness, and it’s all presented in a package that tells you that THIS SHIT IS OUT THERE AND ITS NOT AFRAID TO BE OUT THERE!!! This is a magnificent album, and I heartily recommend it to any open-minded metalhead out there. Even if you don’t quite get it at first, it will grow on you; and all it requires of you is that you accept it for what it is: great heavy metal.