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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.