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Opus Magnum album review - 95%

the_flying_lamb, November 26th, 2013

I came across Hollenthon by mistake while browsing Google for symphonic death metal bands, and, at first, I rendered them as 'generic growled music'. Yet, it seemed something drew me towards their music, and I found myself listening them again a few days later, and, obviously, I liked them. Oh, and how I did...

The first song I ever listened to was Son Of Perdition, and I felt so hooked that I soon listened to the whole album. Ever since that day, I guess I have listened to it as a whole for 30-40 times, but it is still an interesting album I never get bored listening to. Inspired by modernist symphonic music in places (Eg: In the "On the Wings of a Dove" track, you can hear Mussorgsky's "The hut of Baba Yaga" piece), by Eastern music and by progressive/extreme metal music, one thing is certain: this "Magnum Opus" does not lack in variety, nor originality. A great breath of fresh air in the less and less original metal world nowadays, this album has been ignored by too many.

A thing that stands out are the growled vocals, which have a really powerful and raspy sound, without being 'guttural'. The duets between Martin and his ex-wife, Elena, (who is the main lyricist) add to the album's originality and variety. A vocal bit that really stands out is met in "Of Splendid Worlds", where Martin growls some macabre lyrics over an eery piano background, that somehow reminds me of Dimmu Borgir's "The Sacrilegious Scorn" piano interlude. What I also liked about this album is the way the vocals are composed, fitting with the instruments but without being generic.

Another thing I truly liked are the breakdowns and all the twists and turns in the music, the way it flows and progresses. The best song to observe the progressive side of Hollenthon's music is "Misterium Babel", especially after the fourth minute of the song. Even though the kind of progressions they use are not that unique, they fit perfectly in the overall atmosphere of the masterpiece. And the atmosphere of this album is killer, since combining classical / symphonic music with Eastern influences and the darkness evoked by traditional BM bands evokes massive wastelands of ash, post apocalyptic winters amidst the sands of Sahara.

In the end, I recommend this album to any black, death or progressive metal fan out there (and not only), and encourage you to BUY not PIRATE this great work of music.

Still at the top of the chain - 80%

autothrall, October 29th, 2009

It would be practically impossible to top's Hollenthon's masterful With Vilest of Worms to Dwell, thus the title to this third album is misleading. This is not With Vilest of Worms to Dwell. That said, it's still an excellent record which should appeal to the fans of the dark side of symphonic metal, ala Therion (or perhaps the latest album from Sigh). Why this band was shelved for Martin to return to his quite awful main band Pungent Stench is beyond me, but here it is alas, and I am not complaining.

"Ars Moriendi" begins with the symphonic elements and sweeping gothic chorus which recall the first album Domvs Mvndi or mid to late period Therion. "Of Splendid Worlds" leads off with a slow and glorious riff, accented by slight orchestral touches which almost feel playful. It then leads into choral parts with a little more female influence. "Once We Were Kings" is mighty with its 'hwah hwah' and very simple, groovy metal structure. "To Fabled Lands" is one of my clear favorites with its epic, fantasy feel and haunting female wails. "Dying Embers" has a slightly arabesque twang to it. "Misterium Babel" is both epic and operatic amidst its climbing and descending riffs. "On the Wings of a Dove" starts softly with a folkish bliss and then a return to the very Therion sounding choral metal. "Son of Perdition" features more haunting female vocals and is another of my favorites on the album (Martin's wife Elena provides many of the female vocals on the album).

Opus Magnum is another winner for Hollenthon, but it's not quite perfect. There is no "Y Draig Goch" here or "Fire Upon the Blade", it's simply not as amazing as their first two albums were. But in this very narrow field of darker symphonic black/death metal, they are still at the top of the chain.

-autothrall
http://www.fromthedustreturned.com

Hollenthon - Opus Magnum - 80%

ThrashManiacAYD, September 3rd, 2009

Hollenthon have burst back into life after a seven-year break since their previous album with this their third album "Opus Magnum". This re-energising of the band is largely down to the dissolution of mainman Martin Schirenc's previous band, the Death Metal weirdo’s Pungent Stench, and represents a completely different direction to what was produced by the aforementioned Stench. The difficulty in describing quite what this sound is is summed up by the bands' Metal-archives.com page where their genre tag is "Symphonic/Orchestral/Folk/Melodic Death Metal", whatever that means! What strikes you as the listener above anything else is the hugely symphonic nature of the music, so I guess no surprises it takes lead place on the list of genres Hollenthon occupy. The symphonic element is most closely reminiscent to recent Dimmu Borgir, who also aren't a bad point of reference for the vocals, with Schirenc spewing forth a semi-growled/semi-'sung' style which compliments the harder Metal edge well without sitting uncomfortably amongst the vast percussive influence on the album. An alternative view of the well-produced symphonic elements also leads to me thinking of Turisas' "The Varangian Way", where the heavy down-tuned riffing holds hands (and more, ooeerr) with the epic sound of Classical strings. At times the two are kept safely separate but even when combined, as for instance during "Son of Perdition", the result is excellent and doesn't result in the pomposity of some Turisas nor the overly-ambitious nature of, well, most Classicaly-influenced Power Metal.

To confuse matters even more so, 'Operatic' could be added to the list of genres above as the soaring female vocal talents of Elena Schirenc (Martin's wife apparently - could 'Family Metal' join the list?) are used frequently, generally in countenance with the group male vocals to the similar effect of many male/female gothic Metal bands. Now I must admit, I've never been the biggest fan of such styles, infact I generally hate all female vocals in Metal, but there's something about the ghostly soprano sounds of Elena that I can enjoy. Perhaps it's that they are not over-used, allowing the harsher male vocals and the excellent string-sounds to take the lead. There really is much to admire about "Opus Magnum", with interesting additions constantly appearing upon each listen, including the use of exotic, ethnic melodies in "Once We Were Kings" and "Misterium Babel" as well as the blatant usage of a Iron Maiden riff in "To Fabled Lands". Solos aren't in abundance but nor are they missed with so much else going on, however the lead solo in "Of Splendid Worlds" deserves special mention for just being, splendid really.

I can imagine the lyrics to be of a grandiose and epic nature too, however unfortunately I was not provided them in this promo copy so will just have to leave that to you to find out when you buy it! If any compliment is something to cherish it's that Wagner would be proud of some of the bombastic symphonic movements on show here and to combine them effectively with heavy, fast riffing is a challenge Schirenc has exceeded in. Purely from a Classical viewpoint I would love to hear the inclusion of 'real' Classical instruments on the next Hollenthon album instead of keyboard effects but don't let that put you off - this doesn't sound contrived or 'fake' at all, infact it's a brilliant success of an album showcasing many elements rarely touched on in the world of Heavy/Extreme Metal.

Originally written for Rockfreaks.net

Solid, but not as good as the previous two - 75%

HugeTheConqueror, October 23rd, 2008

Hollenthon return from a seven-year hiatus with their release, “Opus Magnum.” With their first two albums, Hollenthon created some of the most original symphonic-cum-folk metal in recent memory. This success, combined with the long wait, and exacerbated by the album’s confident title, drove expectations among listeners to what was probably an unattainable level. Fans of the previous two albums will definitely recognize what they hear in “Opus Magnum,” and they will enjoy it. Given their expectations, though, they will not be as blown away by this one as they perhaps had been hoping.

Composition-wise, this album is very similar to its predecessors. It is filled of Death rhythms and vocals, Doomy riffing, and symphonic melodies with a strong Middle Eastern influence. The orchestration here places much more emphasis on horns as opposed to the strings that are more frequently the centerpiece of other symphonic bands. Likewise, the orchestra here is used to different effect here than on so many other symphonic releases, adding more of an evil, brooding sound rather than a lot of bombast. The inclusion of a brief build-up from Mussorgsky’s “A Night on Bald Mountain,” a composition taking a witches’ sabbat as its subject matter, to open the album sets the tone for how they symphony will be used throughout the remainder.

Lyrically, Opus Magnum is dark throughout. Apocalyptic themes dominate tracks such as “On the Wings of a Dove,” “Son of Perdition,” and “Dying Embers,” while “Ars Moriendi” takes its inspiration from medieval texts that offered advice on how to have a proper death. Lyrics heavily laden with medieval religious imagery combined with Hollenthon’s distinctive Byzantine flair marry to create a work that is evocative of turbulent times in ancient Constantinople.

The arrangements and mix go together here well. Band leader Martin Schirenc has utilized the symphonic elements in a manner that is complimentary to the overall metal composition. While use of orchestral components for melodic purposes is obvious on this recording, closer listen reveals further powerful, yet subtle, use of classical instrumentation. Frequently, low brass, pushed a little back in the mix, provides extra backbone to the riffing. Orchestration is used tastefully and skillfully, sometimes brought far forward, sometimes a bit more reserved; it becomes integral to the composition, but never dominates it.

While high marks must be awarded for the mix, they must also unfortunately be partially deducted for the quality of the engineering. Some of the louder portions were not compressed well, yielding some reverb, so while the aforementioned close listen will reward attentive fans with subtleties within the music, it will also reveal some flaws within the sound itself.

Hollenthon seem to have paid attention to most of the details, and if there is any other complaint with “Opus Magnum,” it is in the originality department. Yes, this album retains all of the elements that make Hollenthon so distinctive, and the sound remains unlike anything else. However, given the seven-year gap prior to this release, this album is penalized when compared to the previous two. The music here does not break any new ground for the band, and the band seems to be treading water to some extent. One would have expected a few more surprises given the high standard that the band have set for themselves and the amount of time they had to put it all together.

This is perhaps an unfair quibble, though, given that the sound is still unique within the genre. Overall, this is a solid, if not necessarily groundbreaking release. Fans of Symphonic, Middle Eastern folk, and Death will make no mistake in picking this one up.

An Awesome Return - 80%

Dario_CF, August 21st, 2008

It's a nice period for the lovers of extreme (be it black or death) symphonic metal: it may be enough to mention the latest works of Septic Flesh or Moonspell to see how the latest months have been rich of satisfactions.

Now, almost unexpected after 7 years of silence from the previous “With Vilest Of Worm To Dwell”, it's the turn of the new effort of Hollenthon to please us with a violent metal so rich of orchestral arrangements, filled up with flashes of musical grandeur with an epic fervor, with some folk and exotic (even if less than in the past), with Gregorian chants, anguishing female vocals, all without renouncing to some killer riffs, to an energetic work of drums and the by now usual quotation of classical composers (I think to have recognized Mussorgsky).

But nobody can blame the Austrian band to be willing to exploit the today trendy symphonic style: e polyhedral Martin Schirenc (that of Pungent Stench!) has been cultivating this passion for so long time, and then just a few bands today can manage such a complex matter without suffocating their properly true metal nature, tying even the most refined elegant scores with an extreme attitude.

The result is very brilliant again, supported by the several facets that make the comeback of Hollenthon even more complex and complete than late Therion. Yes, “Opus Magnum” may be a binding title, but frankly I could not find a better one for such an ambitious and magniloquent opera.

Originally written for Silent Scream http://www.silentscreamzine.com

fantastic - 100%

gk, June 12th, 2008

Hollenthon is the symphonic death metal band of one Martin Shirenc from Pungent Stench. Debuting in 1999 with Domus Mundi, the band built itself a kvlt reputation in the underground with the follow up, the superb With Vilest of Worms I Dwell in 2001. All was quiet on the Hollenthon front after that album as Shirenc focused on putting Pungent Stench back together. However, after two lackluster Stench albums Shirenc went back to Hollenthon and Opus Magnum is the result.

It’s immediately apparent that Opus Magnum is a slightly evolved beast. The symphonic orchestral styling of this band now seems to have been merged seamlessly with the death metal on offer. There’s liberal use of choirs, synth, string arrangements and female soprano style vocals right through this album. Shirenc seems to have mastered the use of classical arrangements and a few ethnic European folk elements and he’s using it brilliantly within a catchy modern death metal feel. The guitar playing too has reached a new level and the solos on this album are pretty much the best so far on any of their albums.

It would be pointless to go through this song by song because the album is perfect. I will though, wax lyrical about the highpoint of the album, the glorious Son of Perdition. Starting with a staccato guitar riff and synth combo before the strings hit, this song is catchy as fuck and has just about every element in it that makes Opus Magnum such an awesome album. The main verse has a jumpy death metal riff before going off into an incredibly catchy chorus and then a mid tempo section with synth but all of that is before what sounds like a sampled and looped sitar and Elena Shirenc’s ethereal vocals. The song just seems to gather momentum as the opening riff becomes a motif with various folk and symphonic things happening underneath it. Also, Mrs. Shirenc’s vocals add to this song immeasurably. Fantastic.

The band seem absolutely fearless when it comes to experimenting on this album and throw in as many different sound into a song as they can. The miracle is that it all works. There’s no let up to the momentum of this album as song after song just comes in and blows me away. Again, it’s a case of each song being different from the other but working superbly as a whole.

Another song that I have to mention is album closer Misterium Babel. It sounds like Shirenc came to Rajasthan on a holiday and got inspired by the music there. It’s another terrific melding of ethnic music with some crushing guitar playing. There’s a soft section with chanted vocals from Shirenc but it’s the dynamics between the softer, almost soothing sections of this song and the heavy mid-tempo riffing and growled vocals that really make this song completely awesome. There’s also what sounds like sampled dhols lurking in the background before a rampaging death metal riff gives way to a violin solo and then a flute solo.

I’ve run out of adjectives to describe this album. People who like Therion and the whole symphonic extreme metal style should lap this up but I think Opus Magnum is better than anything Therion has put out in a long while.This is Hollenthon’s best work to date and one of the best extreme metal albums to come out this year. Hopefully it won’t take another seven years for the follow up.

Originally written for http://www.kvltsite.com

A Long Wait, But It Was Worth It - 100%

anathematized_one, May 28th, 2008

I'd have to say, I've been a Hollenthon fan since they first appeared on the metal scene. When "With Vilest of Worms to Dwell" came out, it never left my mind, and never got old. Finally, after a long seven year wait, they've come back to blow me away yet again. Now my toughest choice is not when to listen to them, but which album to listen to. I have not been able to stop listening to this album for the past two days, and with how good this one is, I think they can wait another seven years to release their next masterpiece.

This album takes "With Vilest of Worms to Dwell" to a whole new level. I can already see now that people are going to claim this album blows in comparison to their older material. They're going to make outlandish claims that it is, "sold out." Don't listen to that bullshit. If selling out means better musicianship, better recording quality, and better written music - then more metal bands should "sell out" more often.

So what sets this album out not only among Hollenthon's previous albums, but among all symphonic metal? Everything. This album has a much stronger symphonic presence than their previous work. It's actually a full, true symphonic composition that so far, only bands of a caliber such as Haggard have been able to pull off. I would imagine a real orchestra playing this with a conductor directing the whole thing. It's not just melodic death metal that has keyboards and synth that give it a symphonic atmosphere - it is in it's entirety, a symphonic masterpiece. The music doesn't just sound cool - it paints the stories told in the lyrics. Each individual part is different from the others. The guitars are doing stuff completely different from the synth and vocals. Most "symphonic" bands have a tendency to just have the synth accent what the guitars are doing, and vice verse. Not here. Each instrument has it's own voice, talking to each other and to you.

You can imagine this album as being a cross between Therion and Haggard, coupled in with it's own originality, and a dominating sense of melodic death metal mixed harmoniously with folk metal weaving in nicely to tie it all together. Never before have I heard such a unique album. The musicianship here is just as flawless as "With Vilest...," but with better composition, mixing and slightly better guitar tone. This album is also highly complex in it's musical structuring. Not only is it complex, but it is diverse; calling different synth instruments for different songs, clean vocal passages, choir vocals, strings, brass, and percussion make this album just as diverse as it is complex. Don't let what I'm describing scare you - it is still really easy to follow, but it will take you listening to it more than once or twice to fully grasp everything that is going on. Don't also be afraid that the album is overpowering. No instrument ever dominates entirely in any one song. Sometimes certain instruments cut back a little, and other times they come out strong, making the individual instruments just as diverse as the music as a whole.

I would definitely not hesitate to call this album the greatest symphonic metal album ever made. I suggest you get a good stereo system, crank this up as loud as you can, and focus on everything that's going on.

Hollenthon - Opus magnum - 80%

Radagast, May 28th, 2008

You have to give them one thing – it takes some guts to call a CD with no less than 7 years worth of expectations behind it 'Opus magnum'. After creating some waves with a brace of well-received releases in 1999 and 2001, the Austrian symphonic metal outfit Hollenthon were put on the back burner while mainman Martin Schirenc focused on his main band, Pungent Stench. With the long-running death metal band put to rest again, Hollenthon has been brought back to activity and the long-awaited 3rd CD is finally here.

'Symphonic metal' is of course a very broad term and doesn't quite do justice to the varied styles displayed on 'Opus magnum'. Thunderous orchestral swoops are the most obvious aspect of the sound, but all set against a variety of backgrounds that weave between melodic death and black metal and some folk-influenced power metal as various orchestral instruments, guitars and piano parts clamour for space without ever making things appear clustered. The vocals of Schirenc's wife Elena also appear hear and there across the CD and compliment his rolling growls very well.

The choral arrangements and sweeping stringed instruments call to mind Therion, though Hollenthon are far more concise; conversely, while the folkish parts and guttural vocals of Schirenc are a little reminiscent of Turisas, the complexity Hollenthon display not only across the CD but through individual songs is far above anything the Finns have done to date. "To fabled lands", for instance, is part dashing power metal and part punishing melodeath, all seamlessly bound together by the orchestral pieces. "Sons of perdition" represents a rare misstep, as the simplistic verses hamper what is otherwise another fine song, and it lacks the strong interplay between the varied instruments that make the rest of the CD so successful.

Thankfully a mistake so often made with this sort of music is not repeated on 'Opus magnum', and the guitar playing is not left to sit in the background at all times. "Ars moriendi" begins in a very guitar-driven fashion without losing its complexity, with some excellent driving riffs and a terrific solo taking centre stage before the string and choir sections build to a thrilling crescendo. "Of splendid worlds" also displays some finger-bending sweep picking that is completely at odds with the classical aspect of Hollenthon's sound and yet somehow fits perfectly into the song.

Special mention must go to the closing track "Misterium babel", which is the true magnum opus of 'Opus magnum'. An 8-minute, middle eastern-influenced voyage that witnesses hypnoctic, meandering chanting over thudding perussion intertwine with crushing riffs and orchestral flurries, and it fades the CD out on a mysterious and deeply satisfying note.

The weight of expectation may dampen the satisfaction of Hollenthon fans who have been waiting impatiently since 'The vilest of worms to dwell' for this release, but the quality of the music here cannot be argued with. Therion fans dissastisfed with 2007's sprawling 'Gothic kabbalah' may find something a little more to to their tastes here, as should any symphonic metal fan with a tolerance for the extreme subgenres.

(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)