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Most of time, the so called masterpieces of any musical genre are defined by their innovation. The vast majority of the most revered music in existence is usually praised for bringing something totally new to the table, being creating new subgenres, influencing hordes of musicians, bringing specific innovations regarding production, mixing with success musical genres that were seen as incompatible, even creating instruments/machines to properly play/record what the artists have in mind. While originality is one of the things I value the most on the music I hear, I can also see a similar value on improving a certain style/sound when it's done right. What Sirius did on Aeons of Magick was to pick the very best of the Norwegian symphonic black metal sound and taking it to the zenith.
This album delivers in every aspect in a way that can be rarely found in metal. This is one of the very few albums I can call perfect in execution; there's no way that this album can be improved, excepting for remaster reasons to pick up with actual levels of loudness (if loudness was something important to enjoy this album, which might be true for newcomers).
Let's start with something truly important for any black metal album and especially for the style Sirius plays: The atmosphere is incredible. The orchestrations are excellent in performance, sound and composition. This album takes you in a journey to space like no other (Arcturus' The Sham Mirrors also does the job flawlessly). While Sirius used standard keyboards, they feel and sound IMMENSE, even more effective than other albums with real orchestras, thanks to a great mixing/mastering job that creates a huge sonic landscape. The choirs, flutes, strings and other chosen synths are all of the highest quality and also used with intelligence, providing a huge astral feeling through the album. They might be a bit too prominent on the mix for some, but this was a need for the intended goal and while are high on the mix, they don't bury the riffs or the other instruments like happens in Emperor's In the Nightside Eclipse or some Limbonic Art albums. Even if they are featured most of the time, they let breathe the rest of the band when some great riffing needs to take the central role. Even the 2 keyboard-only instrumentals are incredible and worthy standalone tracks. The way keys are used here surpasses and goes beyond any other more known/revered band like Dimmu Borgir, Limbonic Art and even Emperor.
Drawing comparisons to Emperor's ITNE is just natural, given the musical style and especially for the vocalist, which sounds like a way more menacing version of Ihsahn on the aforementioned album. The vocals sounds truly evil, passionate and yet articulate enough to understand most of the lyrical content. Speaking of lyrics, they are really well written, based mostly on the vastness of universe and space, they are faithfully represented by the music; even if people can't understand the lyrics will have the message right based on the music alone. This is another unique and important triumph for Sirius: the bands that manage to convey the lyrics perfectly in musical form are the minority and they accomplished this task with honours.
Each member's performance has plenty of character and the whole album feels ferocious. Drums mercilessly blast with expertise, taste and a variety of fills and beats. Taking into the account the drummer is the same guy that did the keys, I can only wonder how great is this guy as a musician. The drumming is really fluid and has tons of personality and is around as fast as Trym is on Anthems and IX Equilibrium. Still, there's enough variation within each track to keep the listener interested. Even the epic title track with its 9 minutes feels way shorter than it really is. Regarding guitars and bass, there's a huge difference with bands like Dimmu Borgir or modern Septicflesh in their implementation with keys: they actually play cool riffs both with or without the orchestrations. When keys take the role, the riffs remain interesting, being playing another melodic layer or providing some heavier background without falling into the endless chugging of a single note while orchestra drives the music. This is achieved thanks to the more focused songwriting and a more integral take of every instrument that all modern symphonic metal bands should take note.
The production is also excellent. There is a rare sense of balance between the clarity of the mix/instruments and the rawness needed to deliver the right atmosphere which makes Aeons enjoyable for both new and old black metal fans.
This album, despite the great production and the abundance of keys, it feels 100% like a (black) metal album and not as a Disney-like attempt at metal, where the guitars seem to be added at the end to mask the fact the metal was not in the mindset of the composer as a primal element. Given the quality of the riffs alone, this album might even work without any keys, which can't be said for most of the attempts at incorporating keys/orchestras into a metal frame.
While Aeons of Magick might not receive the same cult praise of Emperor's catalogue, I consider it superior to it by musical merits alone, as well as most of symphonic black metal releases out there. This is a landmark not just in black metal, but in metal as a whole. The only thing is preventing its glory is the similarity with Emperor's debut but fear not, Sirius delivered something beyond their masters, reaching new levels of grandeur.
If you want an excellent symphonic metal album with space-inspired themes embedded into the music, look no further, for Aeons of Magick really delivers! It's epic, adventurous, atmospheric, imaginative, and more. Aeons of Magick is one of the best symphonic black metal albums of the 90s because of its rich songwriting and ambitious performance.
Immediately as the album starts with "Sidereal Mirror", there is a grandiose symphonic opening filled with all sorts of different instruments. It's so powerful sounding and it feels like it's been conducted by a professional symphony - like something out of Vienna or New York. The opening kind of reminds me of a circus as it does appear a bit jovial, but definitely mature and sincere. The real awesomeness happens when the symphony intersects with the metal. This is an amazing transition that feels very natural. The guitars only come in lightly, but it's at the perfect frequency in the mixture. Gornoth's roars do a tremendous job at bridging the two main elements of metal and orchestras. He sounds a bit like Ihsahn from the early Emperor albums, but with better production around, it's quite a nice taste. It doesn't end there either, for the music remains ever captivating. The riffs are pretty memorable and are supplemented well by flutes, i believe, which are pretty present in the music.
Overall the music is very "big." I feel like so much is going on at once. A good example of this would be in "The Collapsing Spheres of Time". This track starts off incredibly aggressive but slowly builds up. It reminds me a great big battle that's about to commence in space. There's so much tension in the atmosphere and the music itself feels so cinematic. I feel like I'm watching Star Wars whenever this track plays on. For a track that's nearly nine minutes, I'm definitely at the edge of my seat each time I listen to this. It's that powerful. The title track is no slouch either - the band really capitalizes on those grandiose symphonies that slur noticeably on top of the riffs. The second half of this track seems very experimental with the symphonic parts and again, feels very cinematic. For some reason, the title track reminds me of some old Sci Fi movie about space exploration (Star Trek maybe?).
The only reason I'm not giving Aeons of Magick a higher score is that the two symphony-based instrumentals don't really do much for me. Sure, they're very professionally done and serve as good breaks between the metal tracks, but other than that, they aren't particularly hooking to me. They still sound pretty grand, but I personally have just skipped them most of the time. Others may disagree because it could be something I'm missing - after all, there isn't anything wrong with them . Be that as it may, Aeons of Magick is one of the best symphonic metal albums you can ever come across. Fans of the symphonic or space metal genres will no doubt eat this up, but even if you never cared for this type of music in the past, this album is still a high quality piece of work and Sirius should only be commended immensely for their efforts.
This is an album which might not be enjoyed by many black metal fans. First of all, it features probably too many keyboards to please a big black metal fan, and also I read some critics to this album pointing out stuff like "Black metal is about being evil!" and things like that, as far as I'm concerned, this album is excellent and one of my favourites.
The album starts with Sidereal Mirror, which is probably the easier-to-listen song of the metal bunch in this album, the first 35 seconds are dominated by majestic keyboards which I imagine will probably sound incredible if you have giant speakers and a full surround sound set (or whatever they're called). Then the guitars and drums kick in. The production gives a strong emphasis on the keyboards, leaving the guitars and drums a little forgotten while the melodies are driven by the keys. This may sound bad to some people, but believe me, it is an awesome album!The speed is most of the time very high, the guitar sound is somewhat distorted and the drums are very fast, while the vocals aren't as 'demonic' to be considered 'oure black metal vocals', what I mean by this is, Sirius' vocalist Gornoth is no Ihsahn. And speaking of Ihsahn, this album was produced by Samoth at his Nocturnal Art label, which explains why there's a certain Emperor and Limbonic Art feeling.
The next two songs are Collapsing Spheres of Time and Ethereal Flames of Chaos, which are similar to the first song, with their over the top keyboards, but the second and third songs give slightly more emphasis on the guitar sound.
Then the fourth track will surprise you, "The Stargate" is a 100% keyboard song which will imediatly pop in your head images of galaxies and dimensional portals. I like to consider it an anthem to Cosmos!
Tracks #5 and #6 return to 'normal', although track #5 starts off a little easier in a crescendo which starts with keys, then adds guitars, then drums, then more keys, and finally the vocals. The title-track starts bombastically, immediatly when you listen to the first second the guitars, drums, keys and vocals are at full speed and stregth! This song has several tempo and sound variations, occasionaly the keyboard becomes the real factor, and around the middle of the track, for about 1 minute, the keyboard becomes the only instrument. The final 2 minutes sel off this track in a triumphant way.
Finally, track #7, Beyond the Scarlet Horizon, is another instrumental track, 100% keyboard-made, which without the majesty of "The Stragate", evokes sorrow and sadness, at the same time that it gives a certain hopeful feeling, it's a quite beautiful track in my opinion.
As for the faults of this album, well, sometimes the production could have been slightly better in handling the guitar and drums, also you get a slight feeling of finding all the metal tracks a little too similar to each other.
Pure raw black metal fans will probably hate this album, so I wouldn't recommend it to you, to all others and also those people interested in astral themes, I'd recommend you to do some downloads of this album and after hearing it for a while you might start to enjoy it!