Review Summary: Aenaon masterfully combine powerful black metal sound with progressive songwriting, offering a debut record full of substance and charm.
I can't remember what possessed me to listen to Aenaon, but I've known about them since 2011, when they dropped their debut full-length "Cendres Et Sang
". I first discovered them during my formative years of extreme metal purveying, when I would obsessively hoard an ever-growing collection of both obscure and mainstream releases, and as such, it would be several years before I could recognise the brilliance of the Greek outfit's freshman effort. In "Cendres Et Sang
", Aenaon combine the relentlessly-bleak and raw sound design of black metal with a more stylised and progressive approach to the songwriting itself. The most impressive aspect of their final product is not that it's their first full-length as a collective, but rather that the more outside influences they incorporate into their music, the better their songs sound. Be it the frequent inclusions of haunting clean choruses or the massive variance the guitarwork undergoes from the opening tracks to the closing ones, "Cendres Et Sang
" is as full of surprises as it is of quality, without relying on gimmicks to grant each song a sense of self.
Aenaon's biggest initial selling point for those who, like myself, are not diehard black metal fans, is certainly the vocal variety that you'll hear almost immediately upon listening to the first few tracks. The crisp shrieks and shouts that are typical of the genre make their appearances, but the powerful clean vocals offer enough variance on their own to provide a very unique listening experience and contrast very well with the blackened growls that are so popular in the genre. Lower bellowing can also be heard throughout the latter half of "Cendres Et Sang
", granting an even more versatile cast of voices that the band uses to great effect on tracks like "Grand Narcotic Harvest" and especially "Black Nerve". Even so, the more tried-and-true techniques can be heard and appreciated on "Once Finite", where a chorus of shrieks makes up the majority of the vocals on the track. No matter what song you come back to, you can bet that Aenaon have found a way to make it sound a little different than their peers.
The fretwork on "Cendres Et Sang
" uses a massive variety of techniques, be it executing a more minimalist approach during passages of "Carnivora's Lair" or erupting into a soaring chord on "Psychonautic Odyssey". "Suncord", the album's first proper track, is a solid thesis that demonstrates much of the album's instrumental variance, introducing slower passages that serve as the calm before the storm. The effect of the grainy, blackened, raw aesthetic expressed by Aenaon's guitarplay is best felt on tracks like "Necroscope", where a simple chord serves as both introduction and background to the shifting vocals. This is where many of the black metal influences appear to have been incorporated, and it's an interesting design choice given how critical that purist, Darkthrone-esque, 'I recorded this with my cellphone' sound design normally is for black metal. Despite the decision to offer actual production to "Cendres Et Sang
", the resulting mix doesn't seem overproduced at all, and instead clearly suits how varied the album can become during its last act.
Bassplay is another key element to the depth of a track and how emphatic the rest of the instrumentation winds up feeling to the listener, and the Greeks do a solid job with their stringwork on "Cendres Et Sang
". The sound of a thick, grinding bass follows the guitar faithfully, leading to an enjoyable, if somewhat predictable final product. The drum fills are much the same on Aenaon's debut record, with little to no spotlight placed on the drumming beyond how fast it can get. In a world where the rest of the album's parts are so indubitably varied, I'm ultimately content with the drumwork and bassplay being lacklustre, but the occasional flashes of brilliance from "Kraanerg" makes me wonder what might have been if the band had written like that for more of their tracks.
It was merely by circumstance that Aenaon's music and I would become acquainted, but the writing of "Cendres Et Sang
" is no coincidence - this album represents a concerted effort to merge many styles of music together, from progressive elements to the underlining black metal influence to even a healthy dose of jazz that makes itself known in the album opener and in "Black Nerve". Though the female vocals that show up to close out the record in "In Heaven" seem more than a little gimmicky, I have a feeling that if Aenaon truly sought to incorporate them more completely into their music, they could do their work justice. I appreciate how challenging it must have been to write "Cendres Et Sang
" as honestly as they did, and I look forward to coming back to this album and compare it to their future efforts.