The Golden Bough
posted on 10/2010 By:
There's a neglected little rocky crag just south of Stinson Beach I used to visit when I lived in the Bay Area that provided a welcome escape from the stresses of life. The ridge wasn't particularly easy to maneuver, but the payoff was always well worth the effort. I'd sit out there for a spell or two and take in all the epic coastal milieu and eventually walk away with a fresh perspective on whatever battles had previously wracked my head. It was my own personal private escape from life's toils, and I never spent a single moment there in the company of another person.
Most music fanatics I know have bands that fall into this category as well. Those "secret weapons" with renovating powers you thoroughly enjoy, but visit with a hermit's intolerance for guests -- projects you don't necessarily lean on all the time or at the drop of the hat, but that perfectly fit the bill like no other when that distinct call summons them to your playlist. Such is the case for Bavaria's Atlantean Kodex and myself. I was sold the first time I caught wind of their 2007 EP, The Pnakotic Demos, but that same record also established the fact that their brand of epically powerful heavy metal wasn't going to be the type of thing I'd reach for haphazardly for swanky soirees or other social situations. Atlantean Kodex does not create "background music." This is material that requires attention and introspection -- like the lush, boundless and comfortably solitary realm of a George Inness painting. A brew that draws epic power, sweeping doom and an elemental coarseness from the likes of DoomSword, While Heaven Wept and Bathory circa Blood on Ice, filtered through the prodigious stride of early/mid-80's-era Fates Warning.
It's taken me longer than I initially expected to fully dip into The Golden Bough, as evidenced by this slightly belated review. And even after switching mental gears to better suit the band's style, the album's robust hour+ has proven to be a rather herculean stack of meat & potatoes to have plated before you. I'll admit I've finished a few spins wishing they'd edited things a bit further (three cuts clock in over the 10-minute mark), but I've since discovered that the tunes become easier to familiarize with once the album is sliced into parts...
PT 1: "Fountain of Nepenthe" (10:08), "Pilgrim" (11:27) and "The White Goddess" (0:56)
The formula with which the band cannonballed the pool back in 2007 is in full force here: a plodding gait weighted by stout riffs that tramp across the brainpan with recurrent ripples of subtle sweeping leads and somber mellow passages to help sink the hooks further. The opener flashes a bit more of the Fates Warning and Quorthon cues, while the heart of "Pilgrim" has a doomier swing with a heavier emphasis on triumphantly sweeping akin to a While Heaven Wept attack. Vocalist Markus Becker might be a sticking point for those with a bias against power metal vocalists, but he admirably stays within his mid-range and utilizes ample layering to nicely spice the brew. His technique recalls a guy like Tony Taylor (R.I.P.), whose style similarly falls into that really steadfast, good vocalists' camp that sensibly refrains from pushing too far outside natural limits: strong, straightforward and very heartfelt.
PT 2: "Temple of Katholic Magick" (8:20), "Disciples of the Iron Crown" (4:11), "Vesperal Hymn" (6:15) and "The Atlantean Kodex" (7:18)
The second part of The Golden Bough of course carries on the general Kodex credo, but both "Disciples of the Iron Crown" and the self-hailing "The Atlantean Kodex" infuse a more driving gallop that harkens the band's obvious admiration of early Manowar and Warlord. This section of the record also flashes some of the most stellar lead guitar work, particularly the savory nod to the glassy, sweet style of Jim Matheos heard on "Temple of Katholic Magick" and the excellent "Vesperal Hymn".
PT3: "A Prophet in the Forest" (15:00) and "The Golden Bough" (1:50)
The record closes out with the expansive "A Prophet in the Forest", a tune that first appeared on the über-limited 2008 12" of the same name and a song that's probably the most in need of paring down in its front half. Fortunately, the tail-end gets properly spiced with tempo shifts, some nice mellow flourishes and a fittingly grandiose ending that leads into the somber acoustic closing track.
Aside from wishing that the record was a bit more condensed (or perhaps further embellished with some spoken word and varied folk instrumentation), my only other gripe is that the band too often exhausts the "ssssshwhip-CRASH" technique that cues heavier measures throughout the album. These are relatively minor complaints, however, and don't stand in the way of The Golden Bough marking a mighty impressive full-length debut for one of epic heavy metal's sure-to-be luminaries for a long time to come. If you count yourself a fan of raw, majestic metal with nods to sweeping doom and have yet to pull the Atlantean Kodex trigger, I'd say it's high-time you secure yourself a quiet, meditative spot and give them some well-deserved attention.
Register to post comments.