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Please forgive me for writing a long review, but it’s impossible to tell it shorter, because this album is a box-set. The Italian band Hortus Animae was created in 1997, and the products of their work are a demo and three albums. Anyone in possession of this release which I am holding in my hands, becomes the owner of the full discography of HA, given that it contains all three albums. Now after I’ve listened to this twenty-five tracks, I hope that their 2005 album won’t be their last one. The strangest thing is that it is like a foreshadow of today’s increasing avant-garde trend giving a sign of its arrival from the beginning of the 2000’s. Please correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t remember another avant-garde/black metal band from those years (maybe Arcturus or Ulver?!?). By the way... What is avant-garde metal anyway? It’s hard to describe it.
The band was founded in Rimini by the three original members named Martyr Lucifer (bass/vocals), Hypnos (guitars) and Bless (keyboards/vocals). After self releasing their first album “The Melting Idols”, they shortly joined Lacuna Coil, Ancient and Napalm Death for live shows. Grom (who was the drummer of Ancient) became a member of HA in 2003 hereby the second album Waltzing Mephisto was recorded with him.
In general, pretty skilful guitar themes meet atmospheric synthesizers, although the melodies seem a bit awkward occasionally, but they don’t cross the line to be unintentional. Grom composed huge themes on the drums, but sometimes it is too much – instead of being the fundament of the music it destroys the atmosphere. But never mind! People younger than me will surely like this. By the way, when I finished checking out this two and a half hours long material, I got used to it. The guitar solos are monolithic and artistic. It can be heard that the band laid emphasis on the old-school method of rehearsal, making their life work instinctive and highly creative at the same time. These albums can be listened to for many months because they are full of surprises or at least they don’t shoot all bullets immediately.
What about the vocals? Oh yes! Two of the members do this so they’re very diverse. There are well-established vocal melodies beside the grunt and the scream. Sorry, but I must say that it is real singing howed here, much to the disappointment of some orthodox black metal fans. And not only that, but also the lack of negligence, which is still present in the albums, but this means mixing of the style elements without recording the album being completely drunk. Well, Fenriz is good in bringing the lack of sobriety and music quality together, but that’s another story...
The first CD contains The Blow of Furious Winds album. An attentive listener can notice this without having to look in the booklet. The first two tracks weren’t a big flash for me so the stuff attacks insidiously, doesn’t kick in instantly. But then very catchy grooves appear in “The Heartfelt Murder” with a recurring well done guitar sound. And during listening to “Bible Black” I became aware that I had to add the avant-garde flag to the style description. This feeling was confirmed by the piano and violin themes of the “A Gothic Ghost - The Death of All Beauty”. And the progressive impressions were intensified by “Garden of Fairies”, moreover a very professional guitar solo comes in there.
Then a new face of the band introduces itself in the song “The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke – Nevermore”. When I listened this track, it was as if Freddie Mercury would have played the piano and would have sung. I am a big admirer of Queen, thus I was glad hearing it. These parts show that true artists entertain us, who decided that black metal can contain anything. We get the last track with Liv Kristine (ex-Theatre of Tragedy), and it’s the perfect end of an incredible unique, artistic album. Thanks for it! And as a bonus comes a very weird adaptation of “Freezing Moon” from Mayhem’s cult album “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”. I dislike covers, but when I listen to this, I think the blemish is in me or the covering bands. Even Euronymous’ sour solo is played pretty well. And there is an additional piano in the song. And when we expect the end, some melodies of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” sound, then the riffs of “Freezing Moon” blow our brains.
The Melting Idols is located in the beginning of the second CD, and this is the band’s first album virtually. Thomas Ghirardelli plays the drums here, less varied than Grom, but due to this, more enjoyable at times. The sound is okay, everything can be heard well, but not sterilized. It reminds me of Therion’s “Theli” but there are less symphonic parts than on that album. This release has obliged me to put the gothic flag on the band’s style. Actually there were more qualitative effects in the synthesizers in 2000, but the “nintendo-type” sounds sometimes heard here work as well. And there are similar themes on the last album too, so it was intentional I think. I don’t know who had heard of Almost Saint from Veszprém (Hungary) which band was bled to death after its only album, but Hortus Animae remind of that band. Of course Almost Saint was less than Hortus Animae in technical implementing and mood. We get a pretty impressing tapping on the guitar in the second track. “Cruciatus Tacitus” is a four and half minutes crusher with a church organ theme dividing it in two exciting halves. I like it. The scream is very rotten. Cool! The guitar strings are tortured in the solo. This album demands a lot of listening, similarly to the others. The song “Spell & Devotion” clocks just over three minutes, but it shows a very comfortable avant-garde mood as well. This is an instrumental track painted with colorful guitar melodies. And in the fifteen minutes long title track the organ and the piano wander free and this shoots the mood to the sky. This mood outshines Therion’s similar stuffs because I think these themes are less predictable and farther from the gothic genre. But I feel this is overly diversified.
The second album in the second CD is the Waltzing Mephisto from 2003. We almost fall down to Emperor’s deep art in the first track “Enter”. This was the first album where the drums were played by Grom, so this instrument is more dynamic here than on the debut. The second song relieves the brutal start in less than a minute, and it consist of an acoustic guitar theme and some lyrical rhyme. Then in “A Lifetime Obscurity” an avant-garde mood arises and nearly humbles Arcturus. Colossal! I bet that Vyrn and his companion from Damned Spirits’ Dance have heard these albums before composing “Weird Constellations”. And we get a massive guitar solo too. I would like to emphasize “Souls of the Cold Wind” with its brutality turning into sensitive piano themes. I think this album is my favorite of all three in the band’s catalogue.
The cover is nice, but the red-yellow interior is not particularly personal, I could have imagined a more artistic layout, especially for a highly unique music like this, but this in not the point of course. Niklas Sundin made the artwork, who has also worked at the covers of many other bands – by the way he is an avowed musician as well. This box-set was released by the American label Thrash Corner Records on April 10th this year. Summarizing all I am very grateful to Hortus Animae for this release because I had the opportunity to listen to a flowing river of music which gave me lots of impressions so I was not afraid that I couldn’t write anything about it. The lines and ideas exploded like a tank of gasoline. And I would like to thank the band for
sending me the entire CD box without limitations. And I am in big troubles because I hear that my hermetic cabinet becomes more valuable by this diamond, but some themes and sounds showed a bit of hesitancy. And arising of Grom’s excessive presence sometimes the indicator didn’t tend to the positive side so it breaks my heart but I can’t give a maximum percentage, sorry. Apart from these tiny faults I think there is a really spreading, exciting, grotesque, artistic atmosphere hovering around this three albums in “Funeral Nation MMXII”. A huge THANK YOU!
Un sacco di fortuna e siamo in attessa del nuovo CD il piu presto possibile!!!