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Dark past, bright future? - 84%

Valfars Ghost, May 15th, 2018

After getting bored with Eldamar’s debut album about halfway through, I was just about ready to write this Norwegian ambient black metal project off as something I’d never be interested in. Then, at the tail end of last year, the band released a record that employed all the same tricks as the debut but managed to craft them into a captivating journey. It was almost like Matthias Hemmingby, the guy behind Eldamar, was personally driven to prove me wrong. And by God, it feels good to be wrong.

As a band, Eldamar has evolved about as much as one would expect a one-man ambient black metal outfit to: not at all. The songs here are still lengthy and still evolve slowly in their nature-evoking majesty. A Dark Forgotten Past only employs a few tricks across its entire runtime and not a single one of them is new. The music still switches between simple, soothing keyboard motifs and harsher passages where black metal riffs and the banging of drums fill out the background while the keys stay at the top of the mix. And of course, the harsh vocals and the ethereal female ululations still round out this album’s sonic palette, completing the same meditative, naturalistic vibe the band's debut had.

So why is this album good when the first one was kind of blasé? Well, the fact that A Dark Forgotten Past is only 52 minutes long, almost half an hour shorter than The Force of the Ancient Land, certainly helps. It’s harder to get tired of something when it has less time to get stale. But far more important than that is the way this album makes use of the few tools in its workshop. With the exception of the largely faceless ‘Ancient Sorcery’, the songs here evolve slowly enough to give the music a spacy, sprawling feel but fast enough to render a palpable sense of progression. The distant female vocals are employed much more often than on the last album, which keeps your interest, and Hemmingby’s own shouts complement them well. There’s also a greater volume of solid melodies to be found here. A slow, mellow crawl that keeps popping up in ‘In Search for New Wisdom’ will probably be stuck in your head for a while after you listen to it and the other songs, even if they don't have moments that stand out quite as much, contain plenty of solid passages that evoke the pensive, mellow, and triumphant moods this album aims to deliver.

A Dark Forgotten Past is a bit of a surprise. While there’s nothing unexpected in terms of its sonic characteristics, the way they’re all arranged makes this album quite an improvement over its predecessor. Through stronger songwriting and a better allocation of its limited arsenal of techniques, Eldamar crafted a thoroughly enchanting album that doesn't get lost in its own atmosphere.

Traditional Elvish feast of twigs and mud - 73%

Wilytank, April 1st, 2018
Written based on this version: 2017, Digital, Independent (Bandcamp)

There are several bands trying to make their own spin on the Summoning inspired fluffy fantasy atmospheric black metal sub-genre. Eldamar have developed a style of their own, but presented it first as their overly long debut The Force of the Ancient Land. Its extreme song lengths take it to a rather dull 74 minute duration. The 2017 followup, A Dark Forgotten Past, is an improvement though it's still a little rough around the edges.

Aside from cutting the overall length down from 74 to 52 minutes, the songs are also shorter and feel like they're actually doing more things. Compared to the debut, A Dark Forgotten Past feels like it has more stuff going on in it. The songs have an overall faster tempo though the tempo still does shift often, and the keyboards are a lot more interesting to hear; all while retaining the same airy guitar work that you'll hear on most Summoning clones. Overall, this album is much easier to listen through in its entirety and more rewarding.

There's two things wrong with this album though. Vocally, Eldamar uses a combination of harsh black metal screams and clean female vocals, but there are no lyrics used in either voice. All the "ahhhhhh"s and "AHHHHHH!"s used are just that and while they're pretty charming at first, they get kinda irritating knowing that they're just voices making noise without actually telling any story, especially the harsh vocals. But the bigger problem is that 5 of the seven songs just seem to sound the same. The riffs and actual melodies have some differences between the songs, but these songs are all in the same key and progress in pretty much the same manner. It's no wonder that "New Understanding" sounds the most fresh out of the bunch because it doesn't sound like the tracks that precede it which in turn makes it a strong track to end on.

A Dark Forgotten Past is decidedly better than your standard run-of-the-mill air conditioner atmospheric black metal bands, but if you're looking for something in that area you can do a lot better than this. It deserves at least one listen and is probably functional as background music for your Dungeons and Dragons session, but Eldamar still have room to grow.

Déjà vu - 55%

Sokratemnos, December 19th, 2017

Eldamar's first album, 'The Force of the Ancient Land' was acclaimed within the atmospheric black metal scene, and so, understandably, the hype surrounding this sophomore attempt was considerable. I did (and still do) enjoy 'The Force of the Ancient Land', although my main problem with it was that you could listen only to the first track, 'Spirit of the North', and still experience every trick Eldamar has up its sleeve. Whilst good to put on in the background, the repetitiveness of the album makes a concentrated listen a stale experience at best - the melodies and atmospheres remain excellent throughout the album, but variety is sorely lacking.

Nevertheless, when "A Dark Forgotten Past' was announced, I was optimistic. I was hoping for some more prominent and interesting guitar work, as well as some variety in the display of synths. The cover art suggested a gloomier outlook than the cheery 'Force', and I even entertained the idea that there might be actual lyrics. In this regard, "A Dark Forgotten Past" did not exactly deliver. Every song could quite easily have been yet another track from the first album; the construction of the atmosphere remains the same, the synths are identical, and each song uses the same combination of wordless clean female and harsh male vocals. All in all, it's impossible to detect any real progression or development between the two albums; considering the promise that 'The Force of the Ancient Land' showed, this is a massive disappointment. The only song that presented an element not present on the first album is album opener 'Return of Darkness', which incorporates some corporeal whispering in a chorus section that sounds surprisingly upbeat.

All that being said, the album is still beautiful in its own regard. Although each melody is uncannily similar, mastermind Mathias Hemmingby clearly has a neck for melodies that tug at the soul. Whilst working I recently listened through the two albums, and the two hours of runtime were some of my most productive yet, perhaps due to the unobtrusive nature of the music. When spending time focusing on the album, you get distracted by déjà vu as you try and remember which song already used that melody; by putting it on in the background, that becomes far less of an issue and the album shines as a result. Whether that was Hemmingby's intention, it cannot be said. Ultimately however, I'm not as satisfied by 'A Dark Forgotten Past' as I hoped I would be - hopefully he can show genuine musical growth and development in his next release, and not keep releasing offcuts from Eldamar's own dark forgotten past.

A Gorgeous Woodland Journey - 90%

SlayerDeath666, December 10th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, CD, Northern Silence Productions

Eldamar are one of the many one-man black metal projects out there. That man is Mathias Hemmingby and he hails from the frosty region of Askim, Norway. The black metal he crafts for Eldamar is of the atmospheric/ambient variety with songs about nature, Heathenism and Tolkien. He burst on the scene in 2016 with the brilliant The Force of the Ancient Land and now, over a year and a half later, he has come back with a follow-up, A Dark Forgotten Past. So what do Eldamar have in store for their sophomore effort?

As is typical of Eldamar and much of the genre, the riffs on here are pretty lo-fi with a bit of power added for good measure. They are not very fast at all so you can pretty much hear everything Mathias is doing with the riffs and the guitar melodies. It is nothing terribly complex but listening to these songs, you feel the riffs have purpose and actually drive the songs as well as adding depth to them. As you might expect though, the melodies are the main focus of these songs. Although there are not a ton of memorable individual guitar melodies, each riff is packed with plenty of melody. That said, there are a few melodies that stand out like the one that closes “In Search for New Wisdom,” which is both beautiful and calming. It also segues perfectly into the wonderfully peaceful “A Secret by the Branches,” which truly makes you feel as though you are in a forest in some far-off place with just your thoughts for company.

The drums are somewhat slow as well. They do occasionally speed up for short bouts of harsher, more extreme black metal but most of the time, the drums move the songs along at a nice, steady pace. This helps create the desired atmosphere for Eldamar, one of serenity in the forest with a warm and pleasant black metal soundtrack inspired by nature and the works of Tolkien. There are some really nice cymbal moments throughout this album amid the mid-paced blast beats and the fills are solid. The closing track, “New Understanding,” has a handful of particularly standout moments for the drums, including the sequence that starts around the 4:50 mark. Drums are not the focus when it comes to Eldamar but Mathias certainly does a good job with them.

As with most atmospheric/ambient black metal bands, the lush soundscape of Eldamar is anchored by brilliant keyboards and orchestrations that evoke a very pleasant feeling that reminds you of nature’s beauty. Mathias does an excellent job of varying the tones between the electronic sounding ambient keys and the lush, atmospheric orchestrations that make Eldamar stand out among their peers. Sometimes, the keys sound like a bell choir performing a patented routine with the various tones emitted by all the different bells like in “Another Journey Begins” and “In Search for New Wisdom.” This brings an element of warmth to Eldamar’s music and makes them unique in this style.

Mathias’ harsh vocals are of the echoed scream variety and you cannot understand any of the lyrics, which is okay since the lyrics do not matter much with Eldamar. It is all about the music and the atmosphere it creates so even though the lyrics are inspired by Tolkien and nature, they are of little consequence. His vocals are often done in long screams as they are mostly there to enhance the atmosphere Eldamar attempts to create. Think of it like a distant, shadowy voice that comes from above every so often to help you on your journey. Mathias only gets really harsh for an extended period of time on “Ancient Sorcery,” which feels more like a warning of a coming evil than anything else. Plus, it is accented with an almost angelic voice much of the time, showing that although the danger is real, it will pass and you may continue on your woodland journey.

At the end of the day, what Eldamar have put together here is a wonderful follow-up that stands out as being in the top-tier of atmospheric black metal albums in 2017. It is by no means a perfect album. Indeed, there is still a bit of room for improvement in certain areas. However, it is a very strong album that shows why Eldamar should have a long and successful career making beautiful woodland black metal for those of us who enjoy it.

- originally written for The Metal Observer