Label: Candlelight Records
The biggest surprise about Opus Aethereum, the debut album from the UK’s own Ethereal, is that the booklet makes no mention of a keyboard player within the bands ranks. Whilst I would (slightly) hesitate to term the music on this album as strictly being symphonic black metal ,the majority of tracks open with dramatic keyboards, and there are plenty of moments where symphonic strings and flourishes are apparent in the mix. Yet there is still plenty of hard-hitting, extreme metal on show here, full of power and strength. Ethereal are one of those bands offering further proof – where any needed in this day and age – that symphonic elements and sonic extremity are not mutually exclusive.
If we’re to run with the idea that this is symphonic black metal (rather than “modern extreme black metal”, as their Facebook describes them), then it’s of the kind more comparable to the likes of Old Man’s Child than to Cradle Of Filth. The guitars – the metal – is the chief emphasis and driving force, with the band constructing songs that demonstrate exactly why they had recent slots supporting Marduk and 1349. Take away the keyboards, and comparisons to either of those bands at their most intense would be completely apt and clear. Guitarists Iyann and M-Inanz, along with bassist Volf, play plenty of fine riffs and leads in the Scandinavian style, with the occasional death metal influence; whilst drummer Mordrath is a machine, blasting away with the best of them, and equally adept at a more mid-tempo pace as the song required. Vocalist Naut, meanwhile, commands with venom and grandeur, his vocals often bringing to mind Ishan, whilst his deeper range is equally impressive.
Even if the traditional metal instruments are largely the focus of the songs on Opus Aethereum, there’s no denying the influence the keyboards have. “Unholy Ungodly” is an absolute stormer, and the symphonic touches add extra emphasis and texture to the song, giving it that extra bit of character. There are points where they take the lead, slightly taking the shine off what the rest of the band is doing – as on “Psalm Of The Deceiver”, when some superb lead guitar work is rather hidden behind strings – but such moments are rare. Rather, as well as offering an extra element to the songs, they succeed in stopping the album from being that bit too pummeling and overwhelming, relentless as it often is with its pace and brutality. As such, the album does not collapse under its own weight – something that extreme metal of this kind is often guilty of, producing a kind of boredom from sensory overload. Instead, Opus Aethereum keeps on moving forward, full of energy and passion, albeit with an extra sense of grandeur and something of a flair for the dramatic. There is still a lot to take in, but it is an album that rewards repeated listens as extra elements reveal themselves and subtle touches become more clear; it may be a vicious, snarling beast, but it takes time to fully reveal the extent of its power, even if initial plays are still very impressive.
As such, it’s the kind of black metal that has both underground and (relatively) mainstream appeal. There is more than enough grimness and brutality to satisfy those who rarely raise their head above the underground; whilst there are plenty of elements that will appeal to listeners who do not solely exist on black metal. Along with the likes of label-mates Voices and Eastern Front, Ethereal are demonstrating that UK black metal is as strong as it’s ever been, and it would be no surprise if big things awaited in Ethereal’s future.