Metal, it seems, has been a medium through which humans of a different state of mind have been able to channel their creative energies and, in a roundabout way, feel strong and powerful in a world that just doesn't understand and accept them. However, no matter how much corpse paint you wear, or how many displays of satanic glory you perform on stage, it doesn't change the fact that you played Dungeons and Dragons in your friend's basement as a teenager and know the lore of the Lord of the Rings as if it were your scripture. Some have embraced this chivalric display of fantasy with fervor however. And, if there ever were music by which to slay dragons look no further than English warriors Bal-Sagoth. Forget every happy forest-elf-dance-party power metal ballad you've ever heard. Forget the tales of damsels in distress and warriors in shining armor and prepare yourself for a gritty, dark trek through a spiraling, furious retelling of the ancient mythology of the world.
Fronted lyrically by Byron Roberts and musically by brothers Jonny and Chris Maulding, Bal-Sagoth debuted with their inconspicuously darkly themed A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria
in 1993, coincidentally at the height of the brimming second-wave Norwegian black metal movement. Perhaps it is this similarity in period of release that often sees Bal-Sagoth's A Black Moon
categorized haphazardly as symphonic black metal. While it is quite obvious that Bal-Sagoth used many themes of the black metal ideology to craft and relay their ideas, there's much more than just tremolo picked riffs and cold keyboards. In reality, A Black Moon
takes more influence from the old school death metal movement than it does black metal. However, the grand accomplishment of the album lies in its ability to weave death metal, black metal, and soaring, fantasy themed keyboards into a perfect swirling mix of mythological tales.
A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria
begins with a slightly cliché dark keyboard intro track, but, as the second track begins, all portents of a melodious fantasy record are shattered. The guitars are produced with a crushing distorted crunch that add grit and rid the presentation of all shining glaze usually coupled with grandiose tales of warriors and mythology. Switching seamlessly from furious destructive death metal to clean and well executed black metal, each track is unique in its production and presents a fair share of musical surprises. Some riffs can seem a bit filler-esque at times, though it usually passes quickly and opens back to the streamlined musical fury. The keyboards, surprisingly, aren't as prevalent as one might think necessary for the right atmosphere in a fantasy themed record. While they are used quite frequently, it usually boils down to an extra dose of atmosphere rather than taking center stage as a focal instrument. Yet, in the rare occasion they do blossom into a key melody, it fits perfectly into the mix, adding just the right tone to give the each song what it needs to survive. However, there are a few songs here that do seem to overstay their welcome, even with the furious writing and execution.
As far as vocals go, there are three main styles Byron Roberts utilizes to relay his tales of wars and witches. The most frequent is that of a deep, distorted growl worthy of the highest death metal accolades. Less frequently, but still used through the record, is the high pitched black metal rasp that also does not fail to hit its mark and accomplish what it was set out to do. However, the final vocal presentation, and probably the most unique, is the deep and foreboding spoken narrative voice Roberts uses to give a cohesive novel-style atmosphere to his woven story. One would do well to read the lyrics to the album while giving this a listen, for the tale that Bal-Sagoth sets out to tell is surprisingly entertaining and will introduce the listener to a wealth of interesting mythology and information.
While the album does seem to get lost in itself here and there, it nonetheless accomplishes what it set out to do and does it with style. It's dark, gritty retelling of the popularly known but little understood tales of Lemuria and the Atlantean legends gives a perfect medium through which to create furious melodies and soaring fantasy themed metal. Any with an interest in blackened keyboard laden death metal should look into Bal-Sagoth's first effort, A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria
, with little apprehension.