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Stellar... Until It Hits You - 76%

Khull, November 21st, 2009

Look at that album artwork. No seriously, take five seconds and close this review and just look at it. That was all the convincing I needed to give Avatar, and …Memoriam Draconis a try. Say what you will, but I’m a sucker for covers dressed up like paintings straight from the Roman era, and with fire and slaughter no less! I expected a cover depicting so much chaos to have music of at least equal caliber. I was wrong, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Avatar’s first and only full length release offers some minimalistic symphonic black metal – almost an irony into itself, but it works out. Indeed, the prospect of symphonic black metal without the cheese probably interests more than one person reading this. This album would’ve hit a top mark too, but for one flaw that spans the whole album, ultimately hamstringing it.

The big problem with …Memoriam Draconis is that it adheres too much to its own formula. After the interlude, Seduced by Necromancy, I found myself discovering sections of songs having an uncanny resemblance to one another. While obviously different songs, I could not help but wonder if the riffs I heard on Emperors of the Night were the same as those on A Most Excellent Charm in Solemn Endurance. What’s worse is the synths are guilty of this same problem as well. Combine both of these with the shamelessly repeating structures; intro -> first movement -> break -> second movement -> break -> first movement, and the result is a lot of really good sounding songs that all sound the same! This is a problem that plagues all but the aforementioned tracks, and it’s done almost shamelessly enough to where it becomes very hard to downplay it.

This isn’t the case for the entire album, thankfully. Songs like Mists of Evil (to Elysian), Sands of Sheol, and Star Castle break free of the structural and audio sameness, or at least go to greater lengths to hide it. What a coincidence then that they would also happen to be the standout tracks of the album? No, perhaps not. But these delectable few songs aren’t enough to salvage Avatar’s album from its glaring problem of over adherence. It’s a damn shame too, because it’s clear that these folks are very skilled musicians, especially the keyboardist. While nowhere near on par with those of Limbonic Art’s debut, also appearing at this time, they nevertheless fit the remaining music like a glove. They harmonize perfectly with the other instruments, standing as equal without overexerting their presence to the point of dominance. Although repetitive when viewed from the scope of the whole album, they’re still.

The recommendation goes to fans of symphonic black metal. This is, quite simply, black metal with only enough symphonic elements to prevent it from being labeled as merely melodic (Note; that’s not meant to portray melodic black metal in some sort of negative light). If you’re one of those people whom cheese leaves a funny aftertaste in their mouth, then you’ll be glad to know there’s none to be found here; guitar and percussion driven, as opposed to keyboard driven. Choice songs include Mists of Evil (to Elysian), Sands of Sheol, and Star Castle, and Seduced by Necromancy is a surprisingly awesome interlude given how it breaks just about every black metal cliché known to man.

I would have liked to hear this supposed second full length Avatar recorded. I feel like they split up prematurely, because I can definitely see potential for some great symphonic black metal here, and that’s something we can never have enough of.