Review Summary: Two sides of the same coin. At the same time. Sort of.
As they hail from southern Norway, it would be easy to assume that Odium are simply like any other run of the mill black metal band. This is partly true. Partly. For when considering black metal, two disciplines tend to show up. On one hand, there is the raw, lo-fi buzzsaw guitar sound of the minimalist progenitors of black metal, and on the other we have the grandeur of symphonic and melodic black metal; focussing on synths and melody more than brutality. An accurate way to describe these two styles would be two sides of the same coin. But where does Odium fall in this rather simple analogy?
The answer is neither, really. Whereas Odium does lean closer to symphonic rather than "trve" black metal, it is unfair to judge them solely as a band in the similar vein as a band like Dimmu Borgir. The synths and melodies and "epic" feel are all present in "The Sad Realm of the Stars", they are all underneath a very raw style of guitar, reminiscent of Carpathian Forest or early Emperor. The effect that this has would usually be a mishmash of both styles, with conflicting ideas in the music vieing for dominance in the mayhem of each song, Unusually, Odium actually manages to pull this off well.
True enough, there are purely melodic parts to the album, such as the piano in the middle of The Brightness of the Weeping Kingdom and the introduction to Riding the Starwinds, it all seems to fall into place and doesn't ever feel overdone and gimmicky. This being said, any die hard "trve" black metal fan would probably throw their copy of this album in the church they are burning, as even the more abrasive riffs hidden throughout the album aren't enough to hide the fact that this isn't just the same old tired kvlt black metal formula (which those kinds of people can't seem to get enough of).
The production is done superbly, and considering that the album was recorded in 1998, it seems far rawer than most of the contemporary black metal around at that time, which, although the opposite in most forms of music, works for black metal. Even the vocals are mixed clearly, which is something that some of the rawer BM bands have a major problem with (listen to early Mayhem and you'll see what I mean). The vocals themselves are the standard black metal affair, rarely going lower than an ear splitting screech which compliments the music quite nicely.
Instrumentation is top-notch, which (let's face it) is not really surprising for a genre of music that is generally played in the excesses of 210bpm. Anders Eek, the drummer also found in Myrkskog, manages to hold the chaos together really well, with both guitarists tremolo picking their way from the start of one song to the end, without tiring or sounding half-assed. The bass is pretty much inaudible, but this is 90's black metal so get over it.
As far as criticisms go, the only major one is that all of the songs sound extremely similar. I mean, its as if Odium just decided to record the whole thing in one take, with both guitarists leaving their amps on the same setting, and the hilariously named "Bastadon" not twisting any dial on his synth for the duration of the album. The fact that there aren't any guitar solos on this album is also somewhat of a criticism, as over-indulgence of the solo can make for a boring listen, but one or two would have been nice.
All in all, with its incredibly vivid spacey atmosphere and solid (though not diverse) songwriting, this is a fantastic and criminally underappreciated and unknown piece of black metal, that would make a great addition to any black metal fan's catalogue.