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A powerful epic work falling short of greatness - 85%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, August 8th, 2016

With a title like "Kingdoms Bathed in Golden Light" and two tracks extending to 20 and 27 minutes, this is one hell of an ambitious undertaking for one-man atmospheric BM band A Diadem Of Dead Stars. You really hope for the guy's sake (his monicker is The Pilgrim by the way) that he pulls it off not just adequately but really well by the standards he set for himself. And these standards are not easy: ADODS' past releases are short compared to this long album and the music has usually been minimal instrumental atmospheric BM so the onus is on The Pilgrim's imagination and music composition skills to come up with something that maintains listener attention and interest over an hour of potentially monotonous music.

At the very least I'm hoping for something that has a distinct identity and theme that hold the music, no matter how meandering and unfocused it might become, all the way through. Consistency becomes at least as important, if not more so, than power, technical ability, the quality of production and what the artist brings to the music: coming with original melodies, riffs and rhythms, being able to improvise on the hop, knowing when to go with the flow and when to rein in that flow before it gets out of control. Polish and rawness are equally important (not necessarily at the same time) and exploring a range of moods and atmospheres, with what that implies for the speed and flow of music and the use of effects, is par for the course on an hour-long recording. As y'all can see, I don't ask for much.

Overall this is a very powerful and epic work with a musical structure that suggests a definite narrative, one hinted at also by the titles in the order that they appear on the album. Two very long tracks, each varied in their moods (ranging from fierce aggression to quiet brooding and meditation) and music, dominate the recording. The changes from fast to slow and from aggressive and raging to still and peaceful are not as abrupt as might be thought and listeners quickly become accustomed to the transitions. A short acoustic guitar interlude separates the two tracks but it's not quite as distinct as it could be, mainly because the production is not quite up to the demands made on it by the music; there's not enough depth or ambience during the interlude track and as the music continues, the lack of depth becomes more obvious.

While most of the really aggressive and powerful passages of music seem about the right length, the quieter and slower sections seem a little too drawn out and need more atmosphere and a feeling of deep black depth. The overall sound possibly could be a little sharper and more raw to allow those ghostly choirs in the background and the frail solo piano melodies to be heard more clearly. The guitars have a strong steely sound and could be even more so with some noise distortion. In the latter half of the album there are definite doomy influences which bring a strong intense and fatalistic mood to the music.

No doubt about it, this is a grand album all the way through with a lot of passion and energy and raw strength, reaching high for the stars and almost getting there, especially in the last ten minutes where the intensity becomes unbearable. The one thing that really pulls back "Kingdoms ..." from greatness is its overall sound and production which muddy the music and blunt its edge, making it less three-dimensional than it should be. For sure bits here and there could be edited for length (and the last track is too long for a coda) but I think much of the music can stay the way it is. This is one album that some time in the future could do with a reworking that would give it the full sound and depth, and the atmosphere, that it deserves.