Stellar Master Elite – III: Eternalism – The Psychospherical Chapter

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Okay, what’s the deal with bands who name themselves after song titles? Being honest about your influences is one thing, of course, but naming yourself after an album- or song-title – especially when it’s from an acknowledged classic of your genre – seems like one step up from being a tribute band and only playing covers.

Stellar Master Elite, you won’t be surprised to learn, are rather fond of Thorns, and the music on III: Eternalism – The Psychospherical Chapter (Essential Purification) takes its main cues from their eponymous classic debut. Shimmering, riff-heavy Black(ish) Metal drenched in spacey synths and effect-laden vocals, it also borrows openly from 666 International (Moonfog) and Grand Declaration Of War (Season of Mist/Necropolis), firmly embracing that late-90’s vision of the future that’s starting to sound like an artefact of a specific place and time.  Not that this is pure nostalgia – they’ve also picked up a beefy modern sound that lends a weight and power that few of its predecessors had.

There’s a lot to like about Eternalism – some genuinely effective riffs, a good sense of atmosphere and a strong vocal performance in particular can validate time invested in it – but just as many things against it. It’s very late 90s approach to experimentalism sounds almost twee compared to (slightly) more recent BM deviants like Blut Aus Nord or DSO. The slow pace and reliance on spooky noises can sap some of the energy from the music and create moments of boredom. Most of all, though, they suffer in comparison to the band they’ve taken their name from – while their sound is superficially very similar to that of Thorns, they lack the feeling of sheer, unbridled creativity and otherness that made that album such a punch in the face at the time.

Competent, often engaging but, ultimately, too content to simply re-tread someone else’s former glories, Eternalism is an album that just doesn’t have enough of its own character to justify its existence in a world where “weird” and “experimental” are often more common than generic.

 

6.5/10

 

RICHIE HR

Dødheimsgard – A Umbra Omega

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I’m going to just come right out with it – I’ve never really seen the appeal of Dødheimsgard (I refuse to call them DHG – that’s non-negotiable).  Their third album 666 International created a considerable wave in the late 90’s Black Metal scene, heralding a cyber-future that had the fans wiping off their panda-paint and buying glowsticks and leather trench-coats, but neither it, nor its equally feted follow-up Supervillain Outcast (both Moonfog), really clicked for me.  The “progression” seemed too forced, the electronic elements awkwardly realised and the whole thing just a little too redolent of the Emperor’s new clothes.

I point this out simply because I’m about to lose my shit over A Umbra Omega (Peaceville), and I want to make it clear that I’m not just buying into the general consensus here – with this one, they’ve finally caught my attention.

Despite opening with the glitchy, fragmented electronics of ‘The Love Divine’, one of the first things that becomes apparent about A Umbra Omega is that the “cyber” elements of the last two albums have been dialled down noticeably, replaced with a much broader selection of influences. The songs move jaggedly but with surprising fluidity through Jazz breaks, modern classical music, more restrained electronics and some good, old-fashioned box-of-angry-wasps Scandinavian Black Metal.

It will doubtless anger some fans to say this, but there’s something almost backwards-looking or quaint about A Umbra Omega’s approach to progression.  The face of “avant-garde” Black Metal in 2015 is very different to what it was in 1996, and Dødheimsgard’s approach still owes more to the carnivalesque playfulness of Arcturus or goth-tinged drug babble of Ved Buens Ende than DeathSpell Omega or Blut Aus Nord’s chaotic black-hole worship (this review brought to you by hyperbole.com). This is by no means a criticism – indeed, Dødheimsgard remind us of the one thing that the newer style of “experimental” Black Metal bands often forget to include in their time-shifting trans-dimensional horror; character. Despite how wacky things get here, there’s a constant sense of personality, wit and style that pervades each track on A Umbra Omega, drawing together what could otherwise be disparate musical elements into a genuinely effective whole.

As I observed in my recent review of the new <code> album, being weird is ultimately a fool’s quest – each year it gets harder and yields diminishing rewards. Perhaps that’s where Dødheimsgard lost me on previous releases – being experimental and breaking new ground seemed to be the primary objective – but on A Umbra Omega they sound like a band who’ve come to terms with their own weirdness and focussed on the task of writing a really excellent set of songs around it, rather than showing off how wacky they are. A genuine master-class in why Black Metal can still be interesting without having to choose between retro-traditionalism or forced experimentation.

 

9.0/10

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RICHIE HR