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No future, just a sound - 80%

autothrall, August 25th, 2011

One might assume that Macabre Omen is the least productive black metal project in all the Greek scene, but I'd like to think that its progenitors are simply those who like to choose their battles with great care, and this partially explains the consistent quality of their sole full length in 17 years: The Ancient Returns. The band started out with a pair of demos in the mid-90s, and then went on to participate on a fair number of split recordings with artists from other countries, but this is the one official long form recording the band have yet produced, and even then it's but 5 tracks and 38 minutes of content. Fortunate, then, that the writing is this good, because The Ancient Returns shines like a grim, glimmering crown among the viscera of so many underwhelming Hellenic acts of the 21st century.

Don't be fooled by Macabre Omen's scarce throughput, because the constituents here have a great deal of experience in other bands, a number of them big figures on the Italian scene. Claudio Alcara has played with Frostmoon Eclipse and Handful of Hate, while drummer Gionata Potenti has stamped his beats on albums by dozens of bands (Glorior Belli, Kult, 11 as In Adversaries, Ad Hominem, Hiems and Melencolia Estatica are a mere handful). The Greek member, Alexandros, who performs guitars, bass and vocals, has also played in The One, Australian supergroup Razor of Occam and the UK's black/death/thrashers Scythian. So it stands to reason that there is an enormous amount of talent involved on this recording, and that they enforce that with strong atmospheres and memorable compositions is but an extra smattering of blood on their blades. As the barbaric, manly figure shadowing the band's logo on the cover might imply, they manifest a certain level of epic 'barbarity' in their material, almost as if Nocternity and Immortal had birthed a Hyborian warchild.

The album is enormously well-paced, the band wisely choosing to eschew the standard blasting monotony for passages of spacious, open grandeur, like standing in some mass field of the dead, the ring of their clashing steel long having faded into the cries of blackbirds. "In Memory..." is pretty much all crisp melodies flown over the fallen standards of war, with a curious mix of deep, somnolent background narration and tortured rasping redolent of Burzum or Nocternity. The music itself creates an almost Manowar feeling integrated with slower-paced Immortal or even a touch of Rotting Christ's driving, melodic glamor. Another creeper is the 12 minute finale "Hellas - Ode A/Ode B", with incessant, brazen guitars over solid beats that intensity into molten double bass sequences. Macabre Omen can also blast away relentlessly when desired, as evidenced in "A Call from Gods to God" or "The Perfect Sound of North vs. South", but they never choose to forsake the variation that lies at the heart of a good song.

Speaking of good songs, "An Ode to Rhode" is perhaps my favorite here, with lovely acoustic guitars that morph into surges of majestic force, then back again, while the riffing landscape continues to deliver one memorial, memorable guitar line after the next. The lyrics are rather sparse on the album, and certainly such compositions could have benefited from more meat for the mind, but their simplicity is a stunning trait in its own right, and the massive, airy pain felt in Alexandros' tone does somewhat compensate. Production-wise, The Ancient Returns is both broad and searing, not polished off enough to turn away the rawheads, but also clean enough in its delivery that some obvious effort was placed in maintain the material's resonance. The drums offer an appreciable charging undertow, the bass ever present and distinguished, and the axes felling neck and limb, blade and shield as they pitch through spikes of tremolo bliss and rushes of chord-initiated atmosphere.

There are few flaws at all here, but if one could be noted, it's just that Macabre Omen never quite carves out a category of their to explore. All of the strengths in their writing fall under a mightier precedent, so I could never rate this at quite the level of its influences formative works of wonder. But in an era where many of the fresh Greek faces were simply mirroring their clear Scandinavian forebears, The Ancient Returns still brings a lot to the table, if only because of its seamless execution and brooding immersion. A tribute to the fallen warriors of many Hellenic confrontations that feels authentic and easy to take seriously. A damn good effort that falls only marginally short of greatness. How about another, gentlemen?


Epic Black Metal - 97%

girionis, May 9th, 2007

This is the latest LP that is stuck in my turntable for hours now and I can see it staying there for weeks. First of all this is an Obscure Abhorrence production so you know what to expect, very rarely Obscure Abhorrence lets a metal fan down.

Secondly the music is simply awesome. Fast, melodic and epic black metal with slow tempos at some points and very heavy riffs. There are also some acoustic guitar breaks with keyboards at the background which give a majestic and ancient feeling to this recording. But what really makes the difference I believe is the melody. Most parts of the album are melodic, the riffs, the rhythms, even the solos and this melody comes straight from the guitars and at times from the keyboards. But do not let the word melody fool you, this is black metal sound, played with another style, more epic and heroic. Add the scarce vocals (the words are mainly narrated alongside with the music) to all this and you have a new greek epos.

The voice is classic black metal shrieking and at some points clean, especially when Alexandros narrates and chronicles the stories. The production is good with loads of distortion on the guitars and raw sound. It could have been cleaner but I think the group cared more for the feeling and the energy you would get from this album rather than a clean and polished production. Oops, the album is finished, I am off to play it again.

Real Epic Black Metal - 95%

ict1523, February 4th, 2006

This is the latest in a series of great black metal bands I have found from Greece. This band I respect a lot because while many great black metal bands these days are turning into jokes, such as Mayhem and Dimmu Borgir, this band sounds like awesome black metal we all loved in the 90s. It has a very epic feeling and it actually sounds a little bit like Burzum. The music while different once again has the long and drawn out epic feeling, and the vocals for the most part are awesome shrieking which I love, Varg also does some great shrieking.

There aren't many vocals on the album but that isn't a problem. The vocals are great which makes you like and appreciate them more when you hear them. Also while some people may say this is boring and repetitive I disagree. Epic black metal is different and while you may call it "repetitive" because many riffs do repeat, that does not make it boring. I think you need to really like epic metal because only then do you realize the atmosphere created by all these riffs. This album may take a while to digest also, which is why many people including myself dont often want to give the album a chance to grow on you, but once you do its worth it. Other aspects of the album such as the production are also good. The production is perfect for giving it a bit of a raw feeling as well as epic.

There are only 5 tracks on this album, but they are pretty long all between 5 and 12 minutes. Its hard to pick out highlights, because all the songs are great, and many have catchy riffs such as "In Memory" and "A Call From Gods to God" and the Hellas Odes, both A and B which is actually one song and not two. All the songs start off great which is awesome because it sets a very dark and sad atmosphere. We also get some wonderful acoustic guitars on here, notably on the intro to "An Ode to Rhode".

This truly is an amazing album and it is recommended to black and epic metal fans, fans of Burzum will also most likely love this album. Hoping the band creates many more albums in the future and sticks to true black and epic metal.

Interesting Mediterranean black metal - 82%

Visionary, September 14th, 2005

First of all to avoid any confusion let me just say that final two tracks are combined as one on my CD copy. It is written as well on the booklet as “Hellas – Ode A’/Hellas – Ode B.’ This gives a total of five tracks.

I was going to write a review for this the other day but I am glad I didn’t for my opinion has shifted so much. At first listen it was total awesomeness but at other times it falls slightly in the boring category.

I was expecting some fast raw black metal that I heard on the “None Shall Escape The Wrath” split, for this is what led to my interest in the first place. However what we get here is a much softer and slower release. Now soft and slow treads on dangerous territory for me as I tend to just get bored and don’t go much further than using it for background music but at times Macabre Omen actually manage to succeed with me.

I seem to see that the catchiest melodies appear at the beginning of each song which leads me to believe that the band is attempting to catch your interest and slowly lull you in for the rest of the track. Unfortunately this fails slightly and is a major criticism of the album. For that is where the album becomes slightly boring for me. Along with this problem the general song structures are the same. Now let me take you through the general structure of this album.
Step One – Start off with upbeat Mediterranean guitar riffs and often combine with fast drumming and fast bass to give a dramatic effect. Don’t forget to make it very repetitive
Step Two – Turn the catchiness down a few notches and begin to play very repetitively while often including some breaks to focus more on the folk aspect.
Step Three – Have a larger break in the middle
Step Four – Build up the intensity in the last couple minutes to the point of climax at the end of each song.
Step Five – Repeat similar structure for the other songs.

Now that is pretty much the backbone for this entire album and can be applied to virtually all five tracks. Thankfully Macabre Omen produces some high quality song writing within these boundaries which saves the album. Many of these folk melodies simply kick ass and there is a definite sense of epic ness about them. For instance the intro to the final track just simply owns.

The vocals on this album tend to be very scarce and have short appearances throughout the songs. It would have been nice if they were used more frequently as it would have helped reduce the boredom. The vocals are done in a duet style where one vocalist emits high pitched banshee shrieks which don’t appear to have any lyrics behind them, while the other vocalist emits whispers or short spoken passages.

Now with all that mentioned it may seem pretty hard to see overall how highly I feel about this album. The truth is that I can’t decide how I feel. I have decided to give it an 82 which in my books is a high quality album. At times I feel higher about this score and others slightly lower. I guess it depends on my mood.