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If Lux Occulta is famous for anything (other than having two Decapitated members in their line-up for a few years), it's for the fact that they never released the same album twice. Over the course of just four albums they evolved from primitive black doom to pop-influenced avantgarde half-metal. Sounds a bit much, doesn't it? Believe it or not, the transition wasn't nearly as awkward as it may seem, and 'Dionysos', their sophomore full-length from 1997, was an integral part of the change.
To tell you the truth, I at first expected this album to be a shameless Cradle of Filth clone simply because of what it looks like. Seriously, the artwork, lyrics, even the fonts used in the CD inlay all point to that direction. And there is a similarity: this is melodic, half-symphonic black metal with epic songwriting and an emphasis on almost naively simple keyboard and guitar patterns that will stick in your head instantly. The rhythms are very straightforward, most of the time not particularly fast, and the music is easy to absorb adequately even at first listen – or so you might think.
However, given some more time, new and different sides begin to show themselves. Without being at all technical in terms of what individual band members do, the songs have an underlying progressive nature to them – the structures may seem random at first, but have a sense of “flow” that makes even the most drastic turns feel very natural. The apparent simplicity is in reality restricted to separate parts of songs, the entire tracks being often extremely complex musically. There are surprising little details all over the album that certainly cannot be appreciated or even noticed right away. The band also has an exceptionally stylistic keyboard player, who takes the main role here. Although simple, his parts give the album an air of sophistication very rarely heard anywhere. The other musicians perform well enough but remain almost unnoticed most of the time – which of course doesn't say anything about what they play; the guitar arrangements are beautifully done and quite varied for the genre, and even the bass has a few nice moments.
There is really only one thing I don't particularly like about this, and that is the vocal performance. Jaro.Slav's mid-range scream sounds forced and too raw (in a way) for music like this – I never would have thought I'd want harsh vocals to be more polished, but that's exactly what would be needed here. Even with some lengthy instrumental sections, the vocals are overpowering in the big picture and can't be overlooked. A better (or just different) vocalist would make this a near-perfect album.
As for the place of 'Dionysos' in Lux Occulta's discography, for its part it makes their musical development seem quite natural – this is the necessary link between their debut and the progressive black/death of third album 'My Guardian Anger'. If I could in any way assume that you, the reader, are familiar with those two albums but not this one, I could just as well simply describe this as a compromise between them and be done with it. To anyone who claims the band's musical development to be pseudo-artistic or indecisive, I say they're wrong and hold 'Dionysos' as evidence.
This album taught me a lesson: go in with unjustified prejudice and it will be extremely hard to notice anything that doesn't support it. Whenever I listen to this nowadays, I thank myself for giving that famous second chance. If there ever was an album that should not be dismissed upon first listen, we have one here. Heartily recommended for fans of atmospheric and musically challenging metal.