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Less potent this time - 67%

colin040, March 25th, 2020

Having released an EP one year before that showed a lot of promise, you’d expect Horrified to release another incredible masterwork that only the Greeks were capable of during this time, but unfortunately that's not exactly the case here. By no means is In the Garden of the Unearthly Delights a Greek tragedy, but it’s already a step down in terms of quality, even if it still features moments of greatness and overall remains a unique piece of effort.

The first three tracks are all superb and that including the intro. Seriously, ‘’The Awakening’’ has to one of the best introduction tracks I’ve ever stumbled upon – a grandiose one minute and a half segment of glorious soundscapes that welcomes the listener into the ancient world Horrified resided in. ‘’Epitaph’’ continues where The Ancient Whisper of Wisdom left off; a majestic slab of elegant brutality that only the Greeks were capable of and with a strong sense of royalty, the track shows a lot of promise. ‘’Early Dawn Enraged’’ starts off in a similar fashion, but quickly picks up the pacing - this time sacrificing a sense of royalty the previous track possessed for a more down-to-earth approach in the riffing department. For a while Garden of the Unearthly Delights seems like a great successor to The Ancient Whisper of Wisdom.

Unfortunately it really isn’t. By no means is In the Garden of the Unearthly Delights a bad album, but there are some issues I just can’t get around. In terms of songwriting, this album doesn’t come close to the brilliance of aforementioned EP. Horrified still uses the same ingredients here: a fair mixture of angelic soars, gurgling growls, folk-y guitar noodling and unique, melodic riffing but results are of mixed quality this time. ''Down at the Valley of the Great Encounter’’ is anything but a great encounter and more so a mess of ideas. Fruity folk melodies reminiscent more of Tales from the Thousand Lakes than The Karelian Isthmus twist around melodic death riffing – the latter being introduced far too late this time, not to mention the guitar tone doesn’t do the segment justice - which brings me to the next issue: the production.

For this kind of style, I get that Horrified wanted to stick out sound-wise, too. This was already clear on The Ancient Whisper of Wisdom where the band refrained from any grittier production to camouflage their instruments, but I’m afraid the production is too clean at this point. Guitars sound even more feather light, if slinky wonky and there are times the keyboards get surprisingly loud, such as in ‘’Dying Forest’’. Now I like my keyboards in metal, but there’s no excuse for them sounding this prominent in the mix.

The second half of In the Garden of the Unearthly Delights shares its similar ups and downs, even if it remains interesting so to speak. ‘’Poetry of War’’ even recalls Tiamat’s The Astral Sleep thanks to the captivating and versatile riffing, minus the present gothic atmosphere, yet the riffs don’t match the quality of the earlier tunes presented here (or that of The Astral Sleep for that matter). Fortunately ‘’Unbridled God’’ sees Horrified finding their stride again: pounding, yet melancholic the song resolves around an emotional chorus where the guitars battle against one another: one relies on a chugging rhythm and the other plays a hymn of a lead with great effects.

While In the Garden of the Unearthly Delights is a sufficient work of Greek death metal, it’s just doesn’t leave that much of an impression behind unlike albums such as The Whisper of Ancient Wisdom, Mystic Places of Dawn and Orama. You could discover worse albums than this one (such as the album Horrified would release after!), but an essential album this is not.

In the Garden of Unearthly Delights - 87%

invoked, September 20th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2005, CD, Black Lotus Records (Digipak)

I will get this out of the way now: I am an absolute fiend for anything that sounds old. It’s very difficult to quantify of course, but a band that successfully conveys the ancient, the obscure, and the long buried and decayed will win me over despite their musical shortcomings. It is the sort of mood which I feel metal is perfectly suited for. Unfortunately, it is often quite difficult to find artists that actually accomplish such a feat and instill in the listener a sense of wonder for all things archaic. Many artists will feature prominently classical influences or folk instruments or pagan themes, but somehow fall short of actually suggesting medieval, classical, or pre-Christian life.

Fortunately, we can always turn to the Hellas black/death metal scene, which seems to consistently achieve a more genuinely heathen aesthetic than its northern European counterparts. Many are acquainted with the big names and the “Greek sound” they typify. But the band Horrified has commonly been overlooked despite its musical merits. Perhaps the name suggests the influence of grindcore, thus turning away most eager Varathron fans? Connections with the more popular Septicflesh should draw more people to these guys. No matter, I believe In the Garden of Unearthly Delights has an appeal which transcends the band’s also-ran status in the Greek scene.

The cover:
A sorely underestimated effect on the listening experience is the presence of the album cover in the thoughts of the listener. Whether I had first seen the original press artwork or the reissue jacket would have a significant impact on my mental picture of the music contained herein. In this case, I have opted enthusiastically for the original, which I feel imbues a far more ambiguous, muted, and dark coloration. The winding snakes (or tendrils or tentacles) along the center-bottom catch the eyes quickly, and direct you to a miasma at the base of a waterfall of indeterminate height. More than adequately mysterious, and closer to Giger than the Bosch painting which inspires the album title, this artwork is quite befitting of the archaic and otherworldly aesthetic this album strives to achieve. This is not heaven, hell, or anything in between, but a plane of existence derived from a much older mythos.

We, the wary traveler, make our descent into this Garden with a rather typical early 90s symphonic prelude. Perhaps nothing special, but I do feel these brief tracks serve a purpose to set the mood and act as something of a palette cleanser. In this specific case, your aural senses are prepared for an oncoming onslaught of cheap sounding keyboards and an overall mix that sounds quite “ancient” (unless cassette tapes have really made that big of a comeback). The synthesizer is really what sets this record apart from so many of its contemporaries, and takes a bit more prominent of a role than most death metal acts would venture. Throughout our unearthly adventure, we will be party to not only the more commonplace strings and choir, but also flutes, timpani, acoustic guitar, and female vocals sung in a vaguely operatic style. If you are seeking a very straightforward death metal record, you may want to look elsewhere, as this album contains not one but four instrumental tracks completely bereft of distorted guitar. I suppose that this warrants the tag “atmospheric,” but keyboards alone do not convey an immersive setting. Horrified accomplish that feat through their song construction and riff writing, as I will detail below.

Unlike some Greek metal of the period, this album is very heavy on the lower midrange frequencies. Even the digital copy sounds like it’s emanating from a cassette tape. The mix would be quite befitting of a doom metal album. Indeed, this music seems to draw from early doom metal in its pacing, mood, and sense of melody. The guitars reflect this fact, sounding rather mid-heavy and full, but not entirely lacking definition. Vocals adequately serve their purpose with a low guttural growl, occasionally doubled with additional growls of varying pitch. Drums sound artificial and thin, most likely programmed even though the album lists credits to drummer Stelios. In any case, the percussion is fortunately relegated to a backing instrument and rarely distracts from the music. Perhaps the mix could benefit from a bit more treble, which would add attack and clarity. But I have no complaints about the demo-like production.

The centerpiece of this album, one which exemplifies the band’s best qualities, is the epic “Down at the Valley of the Great Encounter.” In this case, the keyboards act to accentuate the riffs by either doubling the melody or adding an additional layer of harmony. A break in the middle with acoustic guitar and female vocal provides a bit of respite, before transitioning into a triple-time bridge section. This part serves to elevate the mood by constantly shifting the tonal center upwards, chromatically transposing the entire riff. This allows the band to easily segue into the song’s principal theme, only now augmented by an additional guitar and timpani as counterpoint, making for a powerful and memorable closer.

What really catches your attention about this record is how often the key changes, not only between riffs but even within riffs. While many metal artists will use chromatic, nondiatonic use of minor chords in one riff, Horrified seems to actually change tonality (or at least suggest change). This is made more dramatic with the use of keyboards, which often serve to exaggerate these tonal shifts. The second lengthy track, “Unbridled God,” has a minor chord theme that sounds straight out of Howard Shore’s score for Lord of the Rings. Only it was recorded roughly one decade prior! Otherwise, the use of harmony and melody tends to follow modal patterns, especially the minor scale. But what matters is how the aforementioned features convey the album’s atmosphere: it feels very ancient, arcane, and suggests occult themes rather than explicitly singing of them.

I would purport that In the Garden of Unearthly Delights is on par with the debut records from any of Horrified’s countrymen. It captures the imagination in the way only Greek death and black metal bands can. Within the metal songs there is rarely a dull moment, but the classical- and folk-influenced instrumental tracks may not be to everyone’s liking. Even so, they are quite diverse in instrumentation and short enough as to not overstay their welcome. This is certainly an album that transports you to an unearthly realm with every listen.

Bonus tracks:
If you obtain a digital copy or any recent reissue, you will be treated to some of Horrified’s earlier material, including the excellent Ancient Whisper of Wisdom EP from 1992. The two tracks from said EP sound right at home with the rest of the album, whereas the demo songs included on some versions are considerably rawer. In any case, I never complain about more music especially when said bonus material is extremely hard to come by.