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Worthy of the Pagan kings - 85%

Imperialtroll, February 22nd, 2012

After eight years, Opera IX are back with their sixth full length “Strix - Maledictae in Aeternum”. Their approach has obviously changed since the departure of Cadaveria; they have become more involved in black metal and their Gothic touch has vanished with the albums Maleventum and Anphisbena.

This record has gone more symphonic and more depending on keyboards and piano pieces, which is a double edged dagger, especially for a black metal record, which is to be explained later.

Opera IX has always been able to capture that evil, unhallowed touch, which is more obvious in this record. The vague chants in the intro “Strix The Prologue” and later in “1313 (Eradicate The False Idols)” they give a very dark, medieval touch that the band has always been famous of, it just appears in a different form with every record.

The lead guitars are mostly more dominant at the beginning of the record, and the rhythm guitars start to appear more and more; simple riffing but in many ways buried under the heavy use of synths which is not a good thing, but in the case here it gives the record more obscure, evil, Pagan touches and an experience of witchcraft under the moon.

The vocals, Performed by “M” has also become deeper but rather worn out, there is a use of spoken vocals such as in the end of the song “Earth and Fire”. The other intro “Ecate-The Ritual” uses spoken whispers and some bizarre chants that give a dark feeling and even scary at a point, with a wise use of keyboard that is perfect for the atmosphere of the “ritual”.

The drums are very well performed, they give, along with the rhythm guitars, a royal and evil feeling such as the song “Dead Tree Ballad” which takes you by the atmosphere to the courts of ancient pagan kings.

This record is different from the previous ones for the simple riffs, heavy doses of keyboard and piano pieces, gloomy lead guitar bridges and evil chants, it is truly well worth the wait, it’s been a long time since I heard a record so magical and capturing as this one. I highly recommend it for fans of Pagan black metal in general. You will be taken on a magical journey through the gleam of the nocturnal kingdoms.

A real heartbreaker - 45%

doomknocker, February 14th, 2012

Bands who continue to keep on keepin' on well past any supposed "Best By:" date is worth noting, either due to their own tenacity or their ability to still be worth a listen now and then despite dropping off the radar. And this here Opera IX group is one such example. Not that what they'd been up to hasn’t been worth noting, it's just that there were many who had clamored to the group back in the day thanks to Miss Cadaveria standing on the front lines, and her departure seemed to have been met with a lack of focus and attention on her previous day job. Yet, the crew they bore, three times twelve in numbers, and when it came time for a new album to be summoned from the depths of the underworld, one of the most occult groups in this or any other black metal circle would oblige no matter who was left.

And it’s with that interest afoot that "Strix..." graced my stereo, ready for action...

The one thing I can still give the band even after all these years...they still have the capacity to generate a malevolent darkness with their musical meanderings. Who'd've thought that in this futuristic age there would still be at least one act that is capable of creating REAL black metal of the un-Orthodox and post- variety? Easily the biggest saving grace with this album, "Strix..." seems natural in its own musical right rather than having to force it out onto the listening public like so many newer acts accomplish (and fail, thusly), and in this case, the more realistic-style performance helps. What you get is what actually sounds like a band performing the material with only so much digital editing techniques (to put more in would no doubt result in a more fake-sounding overall product, something that kills the momentum of black metal albums these days), and to have that these days is pretty extraordinary.

The central musical theme is, as before, primarily based on death metally guitar riffs with a blackened aura, slightly-untriggered drums, keyboard ambience and gurgling/screaming witching rants, and while those are fine ingredients to have in your musical stew, for this there's plenty to be missed this time around. Things plod along at a slow-to-mid-pace tempo that helps create a churning crawl, but after so many minutes (and songs) of the same speed and sensation, you may end up craving something with a bit more speed, a bit more substance, a bit more SOMETHING ELSE (though occasionally a blast beating section will come at you. Occasionally…). There had been at least a few moments where I found my eyes wandering to the current song’s timer to see just how long it's been since it all started, and how much longer I had; with an average of about 5-6 minutes per track, I could use more than just a few riffs repeated with few variations of each. It's a shame that it had come down to this, 'cause truth be told, this was a record I'd looked forward to for quite a while, and while this isn't a complete bomb (it's not, despite my negative comments), I was still nonetheless disappointed by what "1313 (Eradicate the False Idols)", "Mandragora" and "Earth and Fire" had to offer to me upon the blood-painted pentagram.

So in the end, what could have been was not to be, and instead "Strix..." only serves to keep the Opera IX name afloat. Natural black beauty aside, there could have been more to the overall output, and as it stands, I may end up heading back to "The Black Opera" over this.

Eight years of pent up witchcraft - 72%

autothrall, January 24th, 2012

When I think back on the legacy of Opera IX, I think largely of candles, spells and rituals obscured in the ancient architecture of Rome, or of Italy at large. The band has always captured that pagan heritage, with lavish symphonic compositions and a good deal of variation in pacing. But that being said, their 'classics' like Sacro Culto and The Call of the Wood have not quite held up for me through the years, and I don't often feel the call for their particular charms. When the band parted with Cadaveria, one of the more distinct and unique female vocalists in all extreme metal, many had probably written the Italians off for dead, and their ensuing records were admittedly even less appealing than their forebears... Maleventum and Amphisbena were still a Gothic/black hybrid but rarely that memorable.

Fast forward to an eight year hiatus, and the band has returned with it's 6th full-length Strix Maledictae in Aeternum, once more with 'M' as the vocalist. Surprisingly, this is a very lush and attractive album, fully in league with their better past efforts, and possessive of an excellent pacing and narrative structure which overcomes its staggering, 70 minute existence. You can expect all of the usual traits: creepy symphonic/Gothic intro ("Strix the Prologue"), spacious and atmospheric black metal dowsed heavily in pianos and acoustic segues, broad growling rasps and a lot of sluggish, almost black/doom pacing interspersed with rapid breaks. Where they go for a more theatrical approach, like "Vox in Rama", they continue to prove competent at creating the stage-like atmosphere that their band moniker implies, and in general I found that the crashes of percussion and the more orchestral synthesizers here were entirely well implemented, balanced off against the metallic structures "1313" and "Mandragora".

The downside here, and this is also a common gripe I have with similar entities like the British Cradle of Filth, is that the orchestration and setup of the songs often supercedes the actual guitar riffing. Not only for their brighter tones, but just that they do little more than follow along, never superimposed OVER the atmosphere, but riding along under it to the drum beat. Granted, this itself often involves some practicality and variation, and the riffs are not exactly boring, but I wish there were a few more moments on the album where they would break out some intense, inherently memorable progression of notes rather than submit to the merely expected. I am a huge proponent for symphonic components in metal music, but never at the expense of those core metal values I've firmly supported since the late 70s and my own youthful exposure to the traditional bands.

But even then, Strix is hardly a crippled experience. It was a fairly pleasurable listen despite this structural hindrance, and for the most part never grows dull, even if a lot of the songs move at comparable paces with similar instrumentation. Think of this as a broad, occult ritual captured in some catacomb while you gaze on from a stone, ivy-strung balcony, offering applause where the twisted tales dictate. It's probably the best Opera IX effort since the first few, even if the vocals don't have that same distinct character, and the band doesn't broach the confines of their stylistic safe zone.