Artist: Rise Of Avernus
Album Title: Eigengrau
Date Of Release: 19 January 2018
2018 is staking a claim for being the year for extreme symphonic metal to take over the world. I’m only a week into the New Year and already, the two strongest releases to date are both could both claim to share this loose genre. First up was symphonic death/black metal band Bleeding Gods and now I am confronted with the long and eagerly-awaited sophomore album from Rise of Avernus.
Formed in Sydney around 2011, the Australian trio of Ben VanVollenhoven (Vocals, Guitar, Orchestrations), Andrew Craig (Drums & Percussion), and Mares Refalaeda (Vocals & Keyboards) are however, more accurately described as symphonic death/doom metal. It’s a subtle distinction on paper I’ll grant you and the core principles of the music are very similar. But overall, when you press play, the differences are more marked.
I remember reviewing the debut full-length, ‘L’Appel Du Vide’ way back in 2013 and, to quote that generally positive review, I wrote that: “their own brand of melodic and symphonic doom metal is pretty damn good. It won’t win any awards for originality but the overall result is such that this can almost entirely be forgiven.”
The good news is that I feel I can be even more positive about the follow-up, ‘Eigengrau’. In very simple terms, the album thematically explores human emotions, personal realities and the effects on these by external factors such as religious or spiritual indoctrination. And it has got the basics right; the production, enhanced by the mixing and mastering of ex-Machine Head guitarist Logan Mader (Gojira, Fear Factory) is excellent, providing clarity, warmth and guts, whilst the Seth Anton artwork is immediately both striking and dark in tone.
Moving on to the music itself and ‘Eigengrau’ is comprised of eight compositions which together, clock in at just under the 50 minute mark. And, for once true to the accompanying press release, ‘Eigengrau’ is most definitely a darker, more grandiose affair than that of their debut, not to mention more cinematic and dramatic. For my money, it also boasts plenty more originality and sophistication than the debut.
The album kicks off in dramatic style with ‘Terminus’ thanks to orchestration that sounds like it could easily have been a lost piece from Howard Shore’s writing sessions for Lord Of The Rings. The bold and sinister industrial-sounding soundscape helps to set the dark tone of the record and, after a minute when the guitars, bass and drums join the party, you realise the intro was no red herring. Blastbeats, bruising riffs and venomous, savage vocals that plumb the depths all make their individual marks, as do the gregarious keys and further orchestrated elements. It all combines to great effect, producing a multi-layered and rich listening experience. As the track matures, a greater sense of melody seeps in which only enhances my fondness for the song. It is led by a mournful lead guitar line and then accented by a deep and groove-laden doom riff alongside ever-more grandiose orchestration, all of which help to create a breathless, epic conclusion.
The dichotomy between lush orchestration and frantic blast beats is intriguing as ‘Ad Infinitum’ replaces its predecessor. For me though, it is the truly epic chorus that makes this song the huge success that it undoubtedly is. Together with the keyboards, the orchestration actually seeks to provide a lighter, less oppressive atmosphere that has a sense of positivity to it, culminating in a closing crescendo that’s full of beauty and verve within the pervading gloom. I’ve always been a sucker for a soulful guitar melody and this song delivers.
A tip of the hat has to then go to the band and ‘Gehenna’, because not only do the Australians introduce ethnic touches to the song by way of the voice at the beginning, but they are able to offer a song that doesn’t deviate too far from their intense blueprint whilst also sounding catchy and immediate. The melodies are once again glorious but the inclusion of clean vocals within the chorus is the clincher for me. It only happens once and before long the gruff growls return. But the fleeting Gothic splendour is well-placed and hugely effective.
A personal favourite at the current time has to be the moody and spirited ‘Igenlicht’. It has a majestic feel to that is infectious whilst I really enjoy the changes in pace within it. At time, it charges along at high speed whereas at others, the track is reined-in and much more ponderous. The atmospheric minimalist middle act is full of suspense and melancholy but the way in which it builds back up is the biggest delight for me, teasing us with hope before reverting back to the oppressive and heavy gloom of before, albeit accompanied by a higher-pitched black metal-like rasp and all-encompassing orchestration.
‘Tempest’ meanwhile toys with different vocal effects that remind me a little of modern Dimmu Borgir, whilst allowing the symphonic elements to come to the fore just that little bit more, making a more theatrical statement in the process. ‘Forged In Eidolon’ continues to throw up vague similarities to the aforementioned Norwegians but this is forgotten at the half-way mark as the song takes a turn into more melodic territory. The heaviness drops away and what replaces it is scintillating; so subtle, so graceful and so serene, it is wonderful, particularly the bass work and the chosen guitar tone.
At less than four minutes in length, ‘Mimicry’ is easily the shortest track on the record but it in no way packs any less of a punch. It features moments that are pure cinema, whilst I love the drumming, which suits the more theatrical surroundings perfectly.
And then there’s the closing epic, ‘Into Aetherium’. I adore the slow and deliberate intro where crushing, resonating guitar notes are juxtaposed with bright piano notes, only for it all to be replaced with some black metal staccato riffs and then something much more experimental in tone. It is easily the most ambitious composition on ‘Eigengrau’ and its crowning glory is the quieter, more contemplative section that replaces the preceding aggression. Again, the song builds expertly to then continue the quieter melodies within the ensuing final onslaught.
I love it when a band delivers on the promise that they show in the early days and that’s exactly what Rise of Avernus has done here. I liked their debut, but I love the follow-up. Bigger, bolder, more mature and expertly delivered, ‘Eigengrau’ is the album that you must have in your life if you worship at the altar of symphonic death/doom metal.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here: