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Limbonic Art's career contained two break-ups and a substantial deviation stylistically from beginning to present. Daemon and Morfeus initially played a fairly pedestrian blend of symphonic black metal featuring an over-saturation of keyboards and overcooked pomp. Their later releases would feature a better balance between guitars and keyboards, but would lack the killer instinct present earlier on. The perfect balance was struck somewhere in between these two extremes. That balance resulted in Ad Noctum - Dynasty of Death, an unbelievable piece of work that cannot be totally appreciated upon first listen.
To start off, where the hell did this even come from? While Limbonic Art's previous release Epitome of Illusions consisted primarily of re-recorded demo material, there were no stylistic hints that the band was going for the abrasive inclination present here. The swirling barrage of Morfeus' tremolo riffs combines with the occasional, macerating death metal passage forming an abrasive wall of distortion that just breaks down over the listener in near-overwhelming fashion. Take the mid-paced, imperial opening riff of "As the Bell of Immolation Calls" (not counting the atmospheric buildup); the band keeps upping the ante, adding layer after layer of melodic brutality that is so excessive that is becomes something almost otherworldly.
The title track stands high and mighty above all though. It begins with a more measured, dissonant tremolo passage that opens up into a crushing gallop joined by the ethereal keyboards and Daemon's roaring intonation. The song can be viewed as two separate pieces joined by an atmospheric bridge that gives the listener a much-needed break to gather his wits and prepare for the opening of the gates. The second half embodies a massive release of tension that simply never lets up. Right when you begin to think "There is no way this can keep going at this momentum", Limbonic Art makes you eat your words. Again, and again. For the most potent individual riff, skip to about 1:10 in "The Supreme Sacrifice". How is that so catchy yet so brutal and caustic? Later-era Limbonic Art such as this always treads the thin line between unbelievably dissonant and upbeat from a melodic standpoint. The risk yields great returns in this case.
There are also Middle-Eastern overtones, for some reason. This is initially most apparent on the album artwork, as the back cover features the Egyptian god of the dead, Anubis. This would normally just come off as window-dressing but the band injects some very subtle melodic hints of this theme during some of the tracks. The primal, detonating intro of "The Supreme Sacrifice" features a backing keyboard line that flirts around in the phrygian dominant scale, and the crushing release of energy during the closing moments of "The Yawning Abyss of Madness" also evokes a similar atmosphere. This may be the single most important element that raises Ad Noctum - Dynasty of Death to greatness over the band's other, more traditionally gothic soundscapes.
The vocals deserve special mention. Particularly during "The Supreme Sacrifice", which features a multi-layered, death metal approach that embodies primal rage as Daemon delivers esoteric lyrics like "Thought are tyrants that always return to rape and torment the heart". "In Embers of Infernal Greed" is worth a mention in this regard, as it rides out on a groovy, monolithic riff set that has the vocals overlapping as Daemon shrieks "In my heart's enigma, man is an anathema". There are also some Latin passages, which comes off as novel in this case, and I have managed to fit the term "Dementia praecox" into my daily vocabulary in honor of this album.
A perfect score is just out of reach due to two major factors: the excessive length and the production imbalances. I forgive the former more than the latter, as some of these songs' appeal is a direct benefit of their ability to build and release tension multiple times before they conclude. The production issues manifest themselves primarily regarding the programmed drums. While more convincing than the performance on The Ultimate Death Worship it is still a bit wanting by virtue of the unusual drum samples. The snare sounds okay, but the lower toms sound really bizarre and artificial. Regardless, even this can be viewed as a stylistic decision in light of the synthetic nature of Limbonic Art's music as a whole. It is almost as if its electronic, mechanized appeal is a direct result of the approach itself.
I have actually re-written this review two times, as my opinion of it continues to improve as I notice more hidden melodies and elements that slowly reveal themselves over time. Some may find my efforts as an excessive waste of time, but these guys deserve an honest, appreciative appraisal of the masterpiece that is Ad Noctum - Dynasty of Death. My spirit is awaiting the incinerator. No anxiety. No pain. Just everlasting sleep.
(Revised/Updated 1/29/14) (For the last time?)