Release DetailsLABEL Cacophonous Records
RELEASED ON 5/1/1995
GENRES Death,Black,Symphonic,Retro Classic
A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria
posted on 6/2010 By:
So for my 666th review for Metal Review, I thought I’d do something special; something we've mulled over for a while here -- the first of hopefully many retro reviews from the staff here at Metal Review. The point of these reviews is to direct readers to albums from before 2000 and hopefully to introduce some albums that could be considered classic, legendary or even just overlooked. Our goal isn’t to rehash how good Morbid Angel’s Altars of Madness was or how Entombed’s Left Hand Path changed death metal, but to steer you towards hand-picked gems of metal that existed before this fine site directed you towards the best metal around.
First off, a lot of people forget how good Cacophonous Records really was in their early years; they broke Cradle of Filth to the world, released early albums by Dimmu Borgir, Sigh, Gehenna and Root. And while their later releases (Ebony Lake, Scaplock, Twilight Ophera) weren’t quite as legendary, the label can look back and say they released some truly landmark albums, the first 3 albums of the UK's Bal-Sagoth included.
Recorded in 1994 and delayed almost a year, Bal-Sagoth’s first album, A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria, changed what “symphonic” meant. Sure, while Emperor and Dimmu Borgir were in the embryonic stages of delivering orchestration, classical music and black metal to the masses, Bal-Sagoth upped the ante for what “epic” was. Though having a death and black metal backbone, they added huge, grandiose, sweeping movie-score-inspired keyboards (that some would say were over the top), in addition to a backdrop of Robert E Howard influences. (Howard was the creator of Conan the Barbarian, from whose work the band got their name.) The mix of gnarly, deep death metal vocals (the first and only time Lord Byron would use them), fevered shrieks, deep spoken words, bombastic blasting, sloe-eyed maidens and wizard-hewing barbarians took black metal out of the cemeteries and Satanic imagery and into a fantastical realm of musical adventure.
Two elements drove Bal-Sagoth, and continued to do so throughout their 6 album “Hexology”: vocalist/lyricist Lord Byron and keyboardist Johnnie Maudling. And while the band certainly tempered their swords-and-sorcery element halfway through their discography in favor of a more sci-fi-themed direction, the keyboards of Maudling never left their fantasy-based roots, and they were never as direct, prominent and majestic as on the band's debut. However, Lord Byron was a little less gregarious with his song titles on the debut (“Dreaming Of Atlantean Spires”, “Witch-Storm” and “The Ravening”, as opposed to “The Dark Liege Of Chaos Is Unleashed At The Ensorcelled Shrine Of A’zura-Kai (The Splendour Of A Thousand Swords Gleaming Beneath The Blazon Of The Hyperborean Empire Part: II)”), and his growls and grunts (as well as the riffs) were never again as brutal as they were on Lemuria. But his lyrics were (and still are) as in depth as any classic high fantasy literature (Tolkien, Jordan, Howard, Moorcock, etc). For example: "Pungent odour of engorged flesh, Vaults of eon-veiled horror, Embraced by delerium, witches' balms anoint me. Veils of frost entwine me in the haze of baleful moon-cursed dreams, I hear the High Ones whispering ancient spells in the long-dead tongues, There is the gleam of blackened steel in the flickering torchlight, and I embrace the balm of sublime forgetfulness... "From "Shadows 'Neath the Black Pyramid".
As became tradition with all subsequent Bal-Sagoth records, the album starts with an intro, “Hatheg-Kla” (apparently a rejected composition from a supposed stage version of Alice in Wonderland), signaling the arrival of something gloriously epic. And you are not let down. Opener “Dreaming of Atlantean Spires” literally changed what I thought could be done with death metal back in 1995. Brutal, blistering yet beautiful, the song was the soundtrack to a fantastical Hyperborean realm of scantily clad witches, massively muscled barbarians, nefarious necromancers and glistening ivory towers. If Conan the Barbarian were to rock out, it was to Bal-Sagoth. The following “Spellcraft & Moonfire (Beyond the Citadel of Frosts)” and the simply awe-inspiring, 10-minute title track further cemented the band’s epic delivery, adding even more orchestral refrains to the almost chaotic blast beats. Byron’s deep spoken narrative adds even more of a cinematic hue to the fierce music, which may surprise fans who have only heard the bands latter, more polished offerings.
In truth, the whole affair is pretty raw, surprisingly loose and far more rooted in death metal than black metal as the album’s middle tracks like “Enthroned in the Temple of the Serpents Kings”, the blistering “The Ravening”, the lurching “Shadows ‘Neath the Black Pyramind” and “Witchstorm” rumble and grumble with a urgent, girthy elegance while most of their Scandinavian peers were reedy thin and lacked bottom end or real production. However, the album returns to the far more epic and moody throes of the first three tracks with standout track “Into The Silent Chambers Of The Sapphirean Throne (Sagas From The Antediluvian Scrolls)”, which at 3 or so minutes in is just simply breath taking before the outro “Valley of Silent Paths” brings things to a perfect cinematic close.
What’s amazing is that the band’s next two albums, Starfire Burning Upon the Ice Veiled Throne of Ultima Thule and my personal favorite Battle Magic actually improved in their epic scope. But at the same time, all subsequent albums reigned in the death metal elements in favor of an even more pompous and over-the-top tone, which many would term as "cheesy", and the band would eventually start to run in place a little.
So if you are one of the folks that has only listened to the likes of The Power Cosmic, Atlantis Ascendant or the more recent The Chthonic Chronicles, dig up this more feral effort from this polarizing but groundbreaking, sword-wielding band, who are still as unique, enjoyable and divisive as they were 15 years ago. Here's hoping another hexology is in the works....
BLOOD OK JARNA!!!!
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