CD Reviews: Dimmu Borgir, Atlantean Kodex, At Vance, Jaldaboath, and AYS

Dimmu Borgir, Abrahadabra (Nuclear Blast)
Is there any more polarizing group in extreme metal than Dimmu Borgir? You have three types of opinions on the group; the first belonging to the super fans who think they are the absolute best band in the world, the second to those that claim to your face they are the shit but then give them a 14% on Encyclopaedia Metallum and those that think they are a total joke. I’ve always fallen into the total joke category.

To me Dimmu Borgir has always been the lightest extreme metal band on the planet. They may not be quite as silly as the other group often lumped with them — Children of Bodom — but they do seem like a pop group compared to most other bands lumped into the blanket “extreme metal” label.

I’ve listened to parts of each of their albums simply because I like listening to new music but I think I’ve never gotten past track three on any of them, so it surprised the hell out of me when I made it all the way through Abrahadabra therefore I have to think that they’ve finally made the album everyone’s been waiting for.

Backed by a full orchestra and choir they have taken extreme metal to the um, extreme, layering everything on the record with a symphony of sound to the point where the strings become the focal point of the album which is certainly better than string sounds being made by keyboards.

The vocal tone is kind of silly as always and their scary image still doesn’t quite fit with the grand orchestral vision of the album but tracks like “Born Treacherous” with its over-the-top chorus and “Dimmu Borgir” with its subtle orchestral touches work better than any others. And while there seems to be 100 different versions of the album, you should get one that includes a cover of Deep Purple’s “Perfect Strangers.” That’s worth the extra cash.

I’m not sure why “Gateways” (did you know that the city Dimmuborgir in Iceland is considered in folklore and by locals to be the gateway to hell?) was chosen as the first single as the odd female vocals on it are a real turnoff, but the rest of the album is much better. I’ve already been hearing rumblings that Dimmu Borgir has sold out with this album but that’s kind of confusing as I thought they sold out a long time ago. The end result though is that I like my first Dimmu Borgir album which quite clearly means that it will average a 20% in the Enclyclopaedia.

Atlantean Kodex, The Golden Bough (Cruz Del Sur Music)
There really is only one word to describe The Golden Bough — epic. I know that word is tossed around a lot to mean various things, but it might truly be the only word to describe what Atlantean Kodex bring to the table.

The Golden Bough is filled from top to bottom with excellent soloing, tons of riffage and plenty of melodic passages. Most of the time the “epic” label comes from soaring string filled chrouses or power chords that seem otherworldly — music that’s upbeat and strong. Atlantean Kodex are a different kind of epic. Their music is slower, deeper and heavier and mixes a traditional metal style with a bit of a doom feel.

This German quartet’s debut studio full length (2 EPs and a full live album before this) clocks in at a solid 65 minutes for just nine tracks with the album beginning with 10 and 11 minute tracks. That could be a killer if the tunes don’t immediately grip you but there’s no way you even realize that twenty minutes later you’re still only on track 2. And later on in the disc you get the shorter “Vesperal Hymn” (download) which mixes its slow moving power with bursts of wind and thunder cracking. “The Atlantean Kodex” is the most traditional power metal track on the album, upbeat and soaring through more than seven minutes of killer riffs.

From what I’ve read, this was a highly anticipated album in Germany and is getting rave reviews, as well it should. I’ve listened to this three times and have yet to find a flaw. It’s one of the most perfect albums I’ve heard this year.

At Vance, Decade (AFM)
Decade is just as it sounds; a compilation of the first decade of At Vance music. Decade brings together tracks from the first eight album and wraps them up nicely into a massive sixteen song package. If you’re an At Vance fan or just a fan of Neoclassic metal, this is a nice retrospective that gives you just the meaty parts of their various albums.

But it’s the second disc that’s really the exciting one. This combines some rarities and b-sides with interpretation of classical pieces (“Beethoven’s 5th Symphony”, “Flight of the Bumblebee”) and a bunch of pretty cool covers. You get tracks like “Logical Song” by Supertramp, “The Winner Takes It All”, “S.O.S.” and “Money Money Money” by Abba, “Desperado” by the Eagles and my obvious favorite, Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” which was a Japanese track from their first album No Escape. In fact, the only cover that I could do without is their version of “Shout” by Tears for Fears which has forever lost it’s metal lustre for me following Disturbed’s cover of it years ago. And I’m not really into classical music but some of the interpretations are the best thing on the disc. It’s a nice package with something for everyone.

Jaldaboath, The Rise of the Heraldic Beasts (Napalm)
I think by law it is impossible not to love this album and if it isn’t a law, I propose it be one. The debut album from Jaldaboath is by far the closest thing I’ve heard to a renaissance fair soundtrack. The genre for Jaldaboath is officially British Heraldic Templar Metal but should be simply “pint-swillin’ music.”

Catchy as hell, this album draws visions of knights, long swords, wenches, cheap swill and nerds dressed up in viking garb. It makes you want to grab a ball and chain and a fast horse and start randomly downing thy townsfolk.

Serious in their music but tongue-in-cheek with the story of Sir Jaldaboath, passages like the one below in “Bash the Bishop” are pretty hilarious;

“The toll bridge was closed / in south of the town / My kinsmen were barred / even though I wore a crown / When I asked for the reason / we were not to be submit / T’was on the order of the bishop / of Cicestransis. / Extremely vexed were we / at this outrageous affront / It crossed my mind the bishop / was probably a cunt / We rallied our men from pillaging / and plowing up the farms / Blast the trumpets loudly / a call to bear arms / Bash the bishop / in his head / Bash, bash / until he’s dead.”

But it’s really the opening two tracks (“Hark the Herald” and “Calling On All Heraldic Beasts”) that set the tone for the record. They are pint pumping anthems that it seriously is impossible not to love and while the rest of the album is just as awesome, it wouldn’t even need to be as the momentum of the first two never wear off.

AYS, Eroded by the Breeze (Purgatory)
My new growing love for hardcore takes me to Germany with AYS’s second full length, Eroded by the Breeze.  So far this year I’ve loved the harshness combined with melody of the new Pro-Pain and Terror records, but the new AYS record trumps them both.

Eroded by the Breeze hits you over the head like a good hardcore record should, but rather than just melody in their tunes, AYS add some sonic textures as well with a bit of an off-time signature in “Nemesis”, a lo-fi musical sound to “Landmarks” and a lot of lo-fi vocal work as well.  It’s almost got a bit of a post-rock feel to it while still kicking your ass.

I just love the both the energy and the spacey breakdown of “Sister of the Abyss” and the brutal heaviness of “Symphony of Life” and with most songs hovering under the three minute mark the tracks punch you in the gut and leave you grasping for air before you can even look up to see what hit you.

You really should check out the vinyl edition as not only is the tri-colored disc really cool, but the cover to Eroded by the Breeze might be the best artwork I’ve seen this year and when that comes around you of course want to see it in full LP jacket glory.  Love this album with me, man.