Release DetailsLABEL Agonia Records
RELEASED ON 4/16/2013
TAGGED Blut Aus Nord,Deathspell Omega
This isn't easy black metal for soft people.
IV: An Arrow in Heart
At the beginning of the black metal movement, Satan reigned supreme. These were the days of Mayhem, Darkthrone, and Burzum. Outside of Norway, Impaled Nazarene and Rotting Christ roamed about, while bands like Grand Belial's Key and Blasphemy praised Lucifer from North America. Then, as time passed, Satan became less interesting. Quorthon blazed a trail from Satan and Hell to the pagan Vikings, devoid of any Judeo-Christian influence. Enslaved and Borknagar raised the anthem for ye olden times, and even Burzum and Darkthrone abandoned Ol' Scratch for Odin, Thor, and general misanthropy. Bands like Wolves in the Throne Room and Altar of Plagues arose with no regard for the devil and his ilk. So who is left to raise a fist in defiance for Satan?
Aosoth embraces Satan in the old sense. Their peculiar sect, the Order of the Nine Angles, drives them to despise humanity as weak, and to create powerful, soul-flensing music to express spiritual and physical sacrifice in the darkest realms. Plying their black metal arts since 2002, these Frenchmen have produced a number of fine splits, EPs, and full-lengths. Their 2011 album, III: Violence & Variation was one of my favourite albums of the year, and with IV: Arrow In Heart, Aosoth has taken their craft to absolute perfection.
All those who follow black metal know that the French scene is particularly strong right now, mostly on the shoulders of giants Blut Aus Nord and Deathspell Omega whose experimentations continue to push the boundaries of black metal, with bands like Merrimack and Antaeus snarling in their shadows. Just to make matters confusing, Aosoth shares the same vocalist as Antaeus, the other two members of Aosoth were live members of Antaeus, and Aosoth's first full-length came out two years after Anteaus's last full-length. You might be tempted to think that Aosoth is the same band as Antaeus, or at the very least is a replacement for it, but Mkm has indicated that we haven't heard the last of his original band.
And Aosoth sounds little like those other bands, choosing instead to find inspiration for black metal in death metal. But make no mistake. This is no death/black band like Belphegor or Behemoth. Mkm, BST, and INRVI play swirling, seething tremolo and blast-laden music. There are no palm-muted chugs or guttural burbles. Rather, Aosoth has created a completely unique sound by making the decision to let the bass be the primary focus of the music. What? Bass-driven black metal? Radical, I know. The band also uses seven string guitars to bring the entire tone of the music into a darker realm, with a production that highlights the weight of the music, as opposed to the harsh, dry, and hollow sounds of the "Necro" tone.
The songs themselves are nothing less than spectacular. The album opens with "An Arrow In Heart," a nearly 11-minute monster that moves through tempo-changes and hypnotic layer after hypnotic layer with effortless grace. From the beginning, the album sounds deeper and more menacing than 2011's III, and the song actually feels slow at first, even though I clocked it at 175bpm. Oh, you won't think it's slow for long, though, as the drums begin to blast and the song starts to coil in upon itself, expanding and contracting like some sonic python. One of the things that fascinates me about Arrow In Heart is how much noise it contains, yet unlike in Antaeus, all of it is created simply by abusing instruments, not by triggering audio samples.
"One With the Prince With A Thousand Enemies" comes up next, demonstrating not only the band's ability to enthrall me, but the excellent drumming skills of BST, who also provides guitars and bass as well in conjunction with INRVI. The song is long—all the songs are long—but it doesn't feel like it. In fact, I usually end up thinking of that song along with the third track, "Temple of Knowledge" as a single musical expression. Arrow In Heart shares that in common with the more recent work of Blut Aus Nord. The album itself is an expression, not just a collection of tracks that happened to be written and recorded at the same time.
The two "Broken Dialogue" interludes bring a lull to the fury of Mkm's ragged vocals. Each three-minute piece contains a vocal sample that hints at medieval Christianity, although because the dialogues are "broken," neither piece could be said to have "a message" other than unsettling the listener. The music in these interludes, however, is some of the most unique that Aosoth has to offer, with "Dialogue 1" delivering a crushingly heavy waltz with the admonition "Rouse yourself in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!" while "Dialogue 2" warns us that "Satan is ever ready to seduce us with sensual delights" while the band buzzes and feeds back through an aural nailing to the cross.
Album closer "Ritual Marks of Penitence" takes those themes and runs with them for fourteen minutes and fourteen seconds. The drumming draws on the tribal as strings are lightly agitated to produce waves of droning hum and buzz before the fully distorted guitars crash back in. When Mkm bellows out the first lyrics of the song, they are all the more powerful for being reminded what a normal human voice sounds like. "An Arrow In Heart" may have felt slow; "Ritual Marks of Penitence" is slow, pounding out its heartbeat at 120bpm. And then everything kicks into double time, and your mind starts tearing itself apart. When the tempo is halved and halved again to 60bpm, it simply gives the debris time to settle before exploding back to full blast. You will be sucked in as Mkm howls "Condemn me!" This is the music of the flagellant; the real sound of the self-harmer, Niklas Kvarforth be buggered, because it is done not out of despair or for attention, but out of extreme zeal and ritual devotion. And that zeal is what makes Aosoth dangerous.
The Order of Nine Angles describes themselves as "a subversive, sinister, esoteric association.... By subversive is meant disruptive of and opposed to the existing order (society, governments, and their so-called “law and Order”) and desirous of overthrowing and replacing the existing order. By sinister is meant a-moral and of The Left Hand Path. By esoteric is meant secretive, and Occult (that is, pertaining to The Dark Arts)." This isn't easy Satanism for soft people. Aosoth embody the essence of their religion in a way that few bands can even dream of. This isn't easy black metal for soft people. But if you are willing to be destroyed, you may find the joy of darkness.