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Tuomas Saukkonen is well known in the Finnish community not only as the head of Before the Dawn but also from his other projects Dawn of Solace, The Final Harvest and now Black Sun Aeon. When he started Black Sun Aeon as a solo project it is quite a wonder if he expected the project to become as successful as it has. It could partly be because of the success of his melodic death metal band Before the Dawn or just the plain fact that Black Sun Aeon's debut album Darkness Walks Beside Me is just that good.
Armed with Mikko Heikkilä's stunningly gloomy vocal and a handful of other well known Finnish musicians Tuomas Saukkonen has managed to record a highly melodic doom/death metal album enswathed with a dismal atmosphere. A lone melancholy piano melody introduces the listener into this dismal dimension and prepares the ears for the burst opening of A Song for My Wrath which I feel is the perfect song to summarize exactly what Black Sun Aeon is about. Heavy midpaced melodic death metal verses matched with clean sorrowful choruses by Mikko and melodic acoustic interludes.
A Song for My Wrath follows a radio friendly structure but this shouldn't be taken for more than just a teaser of what Tuomas has to offer on this debut album. There is plenty of diversity to the songs and enough progressiveness that by the end of A Song for My Sorrow it'll be clear that this album is not just about the atmosphere but also the structural composing depth and you'll be wanting to give it your full attention. The borrowing of vocal talent from Mynni Luukkainen, Ville Sorvali and Tomi Koivusaari gives the album great variety and such moments as the Mynni/Mikko duet chorus on A Song for My Demise shows the passion that even the hired hands have for the music.
It is really hard to express in words just how majestic the atmosphere is. This becomes apparent during the minute long intro to A Song for My Demise. The melody is so eerily beautiful playing along with the acoustic guitar but it is once Mikko makes that daring scream "darkness" that you can really feel the demise of the track. Every aspect, every instrument and every moment is what alluringly creates this atmosphere. The base guitar is deep enough to be extremely hard to find except in a few moments but its deep tone only adds to the darkness. Not much to mention about the rhythm guitars and the acoustics. Both are deep dark and the driving force behind the atmosphere. The leads and vocals are just the icing on the cake. The final touch needed for perfect achievement. One gripe I have is that the lead guitars, though deeper and not without effects, sound quite similar to the tone Tuomas used on Before the Dawn's Soundscape of Silence. This could be for a number of reasons but I would guess that it would be because of the short time frame (both spoken about albums were recorded in 2008) and it is possible that quite the same equipment was used. As for the actual leads; The majority of leads are during the choruses which are mostly then tremolo picked and -- because the album is mid to slow paced -- have more of that "epic" feel such as Amon Amarth's tremolo melodies.
A Song for My Weakness has one of the most spine-tingling moments I have heard in metal... well quite possibly since the beginning of my journey into metal. It is when the bass drop occurs the atmospheric keyboards fade in and Mikko's voice; that the shiver is sent up my spine and I start to believe that I am listening to a truly beautiful composition. I use composition in that case to describe the entire album because Darkness Walks Beside Me can only truly be appreciated when listened to in its whole. This is also the way it seems when each track is named as a chapter. But also aside from that reason the entire album has excellent flow and there are no standout tracks that you know right away follows an entirely different groove. This could send some listeners running for the hills as each song doesn't have a distinct melody or catchiness aside for possible A Song for My Wrath.
After listening through Darkness Walks Beside Me a number of times it is extremely easy to see why Black Sun Aeon has already clicked so well with Finns in such a short amount of time. Not only for the fact it is easy for a Finn to relate to the music heard on this record but because said music is really just that damn good. Plain and simply put. From the haunting piano introduction till the very last "Darkness walks beside me!" scream from Mikko this album is gold. Go out and buy this. Go out and buy this now.
Black Sun Aeon joins a host of bands basically run by Tuomas Saukkonen, who has been known to refer to himself as a one man army. In terms of output, the man beggars belief; putting out an album a year is one thing, but when you are jumping from band to band to do it, you have to really be all about metal. Which pretty much sums him up. So, despite his occasional lapse into predictability with this and other projects, I must admit a huge respect for the guy.
At the centre of Saukkonen's miniature empire of music is a core sound: darkness and melody, interplay of harsh and clean vocals, and use of keyboards - it all borders on the gothic while never quite being gothic metal. The Black Sun Aeon project plays into this almost straight away, with the purring melodic leads associated with Dawn of Solace (and the outros often included on Before the Dawn albums), as well as acoustic guitar interludes and anthemic clean-sung sections. Saukkonen throughout proves himself as an excellent drummer, and like most of his releases this is the field where he shows his prowess with the most flair. Between rolling fills, double bass rumbles and simpler, pounding beats, the drums have been carefully mixed to rightfully allow every tap of a skin to be heard. One of the few melodic, gothy doom metal albums where there is some truly kickass drumming.
An interesting choice has been made with the vocals; rather than take the predictable direction of having a number of clean vocalists, Mikko Heikkila sings all the clean parts, while three additional harsh vocalists were hired. This allows Saukkonen's usual throaty delivery to be supplemented by differing styles, with Mynni Luukkainen and Tomi Koivusaari's rough voices introducing an element of old school Finnish death and gloom to the proceedings. Heikkila meanwhile helps set the album apart from Dawn of Solace's The Darkness somewhat; as that album was sung predominantly by Saukkonen the similiarities might have become too clear had the same been done here. Heikkila's voice is a bit more deep and bassy, with plenty of expressiveness and even adding some feeling to clangers like 'I have been told that before the end/ angels will come' and so forth.
The album is divided into chapters, possibly to emphasize the idea of a concept album. While generally the labeling shouldn't have a bearing on the actual music, the identical nature of the song titles has the effect of reminding the listener how similiar the songs here are, as compared to Before the Dawn or even Dawn of Solace. I am sure this was done with the intent of making the album more immersive and "whole" feeling, but it just smacks of a lack of creativity. The great majority of the songs also use a repeated format; a quiet intro with cleanly sung vocals, the guitars come in with harsh vocals, building up to an epic peak where some more clean vocals are delivered but with more gusto. To be fair, it's a tried and true recipe, and every now and again a few things like brief blastbeats on 'Chapter V' or a My Dying Bride-referencing doomy guitar intro on 'Chapter VIII' are used. You won't be buying this for the diversity, but when you're in the right mood the album really delivers.
After the '90s sounding 'Chapter VIII', a definite highlight and a successful glance at his roots by Saukkonen, Darkness Walks Beside Me ends with its finest moment. Apparently a bonus track, and also an instrumental, 'Chapter IX: A Song for the One Who Passed Away 4.9.2008' is dedicated to a friend of Saukkonen's who passed away. I can't speak for that friend, but this is a damn fine tribute. Easily the best riff-based electric guitar instrumental I have heard since 'Jester's Dance' from In Flames' The Jester Race. The build toward the grand, classical riffs that colour the middle of the song is nothing short of breathtaking don'tcherknow, and I've listened to the thing about five times as much as anything else on the album.
If Before the Dawn and Dawn of Solace really do it for you, Black Sun Aeon represent a slightly darker and more focused reiteration of the latter, even though the band name doesn't have the word "dawn" in it. I enjoy this and I've played it a fair few times, not to mention that final track is the shit. The album basically gets better as it goes on, with all the best stuff at the end, which is definitely better than being one of those CDs that starts great and then goes downhill. I won't so much be keeping an eye out for future music with this particular logo on it as just keeping an ear open for whatever Saukkonen records next, fella's got the right idea.