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Consistent Sorrow - 85%

BlackheartSauron, May 16th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, Digital, Alone Records

Greek legends of heavy melodic metal return once again with a new album, second one since their recent resurfacing after around 12 year period of silence.

Releasing their first album in 1995, OTIL have quite a history by now, and naturally some lineup changes happened in the process. But the core members seem to be right there still: which are vocalist Stefanos Kintzoglou and guitarist Chris Dragamestianos, joined by another founding member Fotis Hondroudakis, who seems to have not been present in the band since 1997, but rejoined in 2003. Which is a good sign to begin with.

OTIL's history has several periods, starting with interesting but highly inconsistent mix of melodic metal and, perhaps, gothic rock, with death-doom and black metal elements - which was "Sounds of Beautiful Experience" released in 1995. That album was prominent in using predominantly clean male vocals, joined by a great deal of death metal grunts, and also occasional blackmetalish screaming. In the end it all sounded very unconventional but also very inconsistent and patchwork-like, and the production was in general quite bad.

Since then the band became somewhat of a more hot-blooded version of the norwegian legends Theatre of Tragedy, releasing Orama year after Velvet Darkness they Fear, and Crystal Tears exactly year after Aegis. And while neither of those pairs of albums can be called too similar, they both follow the same path. Though Orama is way heavier and more uptempo, it is still melodic death doom with female vocals genre-wise just like Velvet Darkness. And Crystal Tears is even more similar to Aegis (though arguably even more of a masterpiece in the genre, with an extra strength coming from viola parts that take that otherwise relatively average recording to the higher level of excellence). In those golden years of "gothic doom metal" and then "gothic metal" both of these releases brought quite some attention to OTIL.

But the crisis of the genre, which made Theatre of Tragedy completely switch direction with their Musique, strongly affected OTIL too. Also at the same time some more lineup changes happened in the band, all of which made them shift into a new and not a very successful phase of Future Narcotic, Angeldust and Egocentric - albums that sound more like romantic uptempo rock music than any kind of metal. Those albums still featured clean-ish male, clean female vocals (gone after Future Narcotic though), keyboards, acoustic guitar parts and occasional strings (gone since Angeldust), but gone were the days of darker atmosphere and all that aesthetic sadness that "gothic metal" had in late 90's. These three albums sounded way more radio-friendly and uplifting than anything OTIL has produced before. And though I still enjoy listening to them now, I have to admit they were noticeably inferior to their two predecessors, and genre wise went from new and groundbreaking stuff into regular and mundane.

And then there was silence - 12 years or so of silence, until album Eternal Silence has been released. And though it has promised much with all it's arsenal of harsh male and clean female vocals, pianos, synthesizers, stings, heavy riffs and acoustic guitar parts yada yada - it ended up being a rather patchworky and convoluted offering, where not all parts fit together very well, and the general flow of music is impaired by it's attempt to be heavy and sensitive at the same time using conflicting means. So while on the one hand the release was interesting, it failed to "stick" and be memorable.

And now we have Aegean Sorrow, and it seems that history repeats itself going into a spiral - as Aegean Sorrow is a very focused and consistent recording unlike it's patchworky and inconsistent predecessor, delivering a solid punch of heaviness where it's predecessor was a mixed bag of all sort of things.

It seems that Aegean Sorrow is the heaviest album OTIL have produced so far, even surpassing Orama, and also most consistent and focused album, ditching female vocals completely, and, except for one track, clean male vocals too, getting rid of prominent keyboard parts (while retaining the keyboards), or prominent strings parts (while retaining occasional strings) - focusing on heavy riffs and harmonized guitar parts, low grunts that sound better then ever (and are at least as low and heavy as on Orama), acoustic guitar parts, and occasional keyboard/strings support on background. OTIL also seriously toned down on the romantic notes in the overall mood of the music, focusing more on melancholy and sorrow - which works great in this case. The album totally delivers on the sorrow part, and that is perhaps it's biggest strength - the songwriting works when it comes to delivering the emotions, and what more could one ask for? After all, it's not the complexity or particular instrumentation that we look for in music - it's the emotions that it (hopefully) conveys. And this time OTIL deliver!

The album is generally mid/slow tempo except for one heavier riff in Olethros Pt.I, which in a way reminds me of The Forever People on My Dying Bride's As the Flower Withers, where it is the "kicker" track on otherwise slow album - though Olethros Pt.I switches into a melodic sections too.

The album has a few guest musicians present too, most prominent of which is Paul Khur (off Novembers Doom), who provides clean vocals on the first verses of The Final Truth. And this is IMO perhaps the only part on the album that somewhat breaks the consistency. Khur's vocals sound a lot like clean vocals on Crematory's Awake to me, and it's not that they're bad in any way, it's just that they don't actually fit the album emotion-wise I guess.

Surprisingly, despite this album being as heavy as Orama, in some of the guitar and strings parts one can clearly recognize the same style as on Future Narcotic and Angeldust - while genre-wise it sounds much more akin to early Saturnus (Paradise Belongs to You) and My Dying Bride (As The Flower Withers). Perhaps it's fair to say that this is the first specifically doom metal album produced by OTIL, without any "gothic" or other parts being prominent enough to be mentioned when classifying it.

Last but not least, the album was mixed/mastered by non other than legendary Dan Swano himself - which is probably what makes it a really compelling listen. The mix is impeccable, rvery instrument sounds perfect, and the harsh vocals are deep as never before.

The album has it's weaknesses too though - subjective and objective. Subjectively, not all people seem to enjoy that much consistency in the recordings, and not many people enjoy pure doom metal at all - some might find it too boring and unexciting, not containing enough interesting parts, too bland in a way. But this is very subjective. I suppose one could try listening to tracks like Erevos (which conveniently also has a videoclip shot for it) or In Emerald Eyes - in order to decide whether he or she would like to hear more of such music.

Objectively, I suppose the biggest issue is playing time, which is not that long if you subtract intro, the last track Skotos which is essentially a piano sonata (thus an "outro" of sorts), A Sign of Sadness, which is an acoustic guitar driven track with guest "vocalist" performing a spoken word part over it (so it's a lot like "pre-outro"), and that leaves you with 39 minutes of music instead of expected 47 (and also do consider that this album has some acoustic guitar driven and keyboard driven parts and "interludes" within the songs here and there). Actually, it's not so much about the time per se, as 39 minutes is still a lot, as it is about intro/outro to actual music ratio.

Other than that, I suppose one could wish for better songwriting-wise in one or two places on the album (like melodic part of Olethros Pt.I, which has a bit of "going nowhere" feeling, as it steps in to provide contrast to the heavy riff, but doesn't seem to properly develop into an interesting part of it's own; and also the first verses of The Final Truth that contain Khur's vocals feel kind of out of place to me - but this is already subjective I guess).

In the end we have a decent album that is consistent, memorable, and hits the mark emotion-wise.

And while I fully realize this is not mid-90's, I still have a hope that history will truly repeat itself once more in a parallel loop of a spiral, and next album would be to Aegean Sorrow what Crystal Tears was to Orama - a worthy follow up and a masterpiece of a genre. But whether such thing can actually happen - remain to be seen. Well, time shall tell.

Highlights: Erevos, In Emerald Eyes, Olethros Pt.II

Thorns Soaked in Sedatives - 45%

CannibalCorpse, March 16th, 2018

Although never entirely in my inner circle of personal favorites stemming from the Greek metal scene, I was genuinely excited to hear of a new On Thorns I Lay release coming out in 2018. With the “back to the roots” suffix added by the band themselves, I was expecting a profound doom-ish heaviness with a certain Mediterranean atmosphere (early-mid 90s extreme metal grandeur from Hellas has always had a massive impact on this very reviewer here) to quench my thirst for this style of metal.

Truth be told – my expectations were not met at all.

It wasn't clear to me immediately. When the first song starts after a mood-setting introduction, you are soon being welcomed by a heavy barrage of riffs and some pristine melodic lead guitars, set pretty close to my preferred timbral picture. Garnered with rather deep, yet decipherable growling by Stefanos Kintzoglou, it seemed as if this album could turn out to be an interesting journey and so I kept listening, wondering what they would serve up next.

Well, I had to wait until song number seven, “The Final Truth” to finally experience something truly DIFFERENT to a dreary doom/death-metal-by-the-numbers formula that I had to wade through up to this point. The dragging, samey guitar riffs, these initially potent but soon-to-be-repetitive lead melodies, the predictable acoustic guitar breaks (hello Opeth!) and the extremely invariant vocal-performance throughout the first 30 (!) minutes were almost too boring to handle in a single listen. Most of these songs don't need to be this long - if you don't have the ideas to fill this much aural space, then just don't. Sure, the genre is renowned for some repetition but this is total exaggeration!

So what about the concluding third of “Aegean Sorrow”? While it sounds quite different, the groove metal-esque riffing in “The Final Truth” is not heavy enough to be fun and besides it does not possess many memorable qualities at all and the track's chorus doesn't flow too well. But although only sparingly utilized, there is some refreshing clean singing in here that breaks up the vocal monotony. Surprisingly, with the decrease of metal elements on the last two songs, some more creative spark is being introduced. The group manages to leave the worn-out formula behind for a bit as they churn out a nicely written piano ballad at the end of the album to spice up their recipe a little - too bad that even “Skotos” suffers somewhat from the “repeat-until-dead”-syndrome.

Obviously it is too little - too late, as this new On Thorns I Lay-offering has already left a bitter taste in my mouth and I'm afraid that my cravings for this style of metal have been successfully killed off for a while and that surely is no good premise for an honest recommendation.

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