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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.