Review Summary: “Archaeaeon” sees Mitochondrion enter the metal battlefield with the enigma of seasoned warriors by setting a startlingly high standard for their contemporaries. A standard only they would shatter later with the renowned “Parasignosis”.
People who have listened to “Parasignosis” and have then turned their sights on “Archaeaeon” might approach the album with a healthy dose of apprehensiveness that is normally attributed to the journey one takes when travelling chronologically backwards in a band’s discography and reaching albums that would mark the inception of the band. Anxieties would include poorer production and naïve, under-developed ideas that were later honed and integrated into the brilliant albums that would succeed the said prototypical endeavor.
From the starting minutes of “Archaeaeon” however all such doubts are put to rest. “Archaeaeon” pales only slightly in comparison to its successor and that too only in terms of its production. The aggression and the post-apocalyptic bleakness that Mitochondrion painted so beautifully in “Parasignosis” can be seen as an upgrade from the dark, nihilistic landscapes of “Archaeaeon”. “Into the Pit of Babel” launches a furious assault of whining guitars, heavy bass and tormented vocals that wouldn’t be out of place in a dark mental asylum. Midway through the song Mitochondrion slow down for three minutes after which Shawn Hache’s deep guttural growl guides the song through Karl Godard’s well written beats after which the entire song just stops and waits for the listener to drop his guard while Hache’s growl brings the song back to life and carries itself to its end.
“Eternal Contempt of Man” and “Infernal Weapons of Summon” display brilliant musicianship and can be said to epitomize all that “Archaeaeon” has to offer. Lead guitars make calculated appearances and their notes writhe in pain like their vocal counterparts and disappear suddenly only to be replaced by Hache’s astonishing growl and Nick Yanchuk’s tormented shriek that continue to swing and wrestle to match the chaos around them. Godard’s drumming is more akin to a soldier’s war anthem which makes the music all the more nihilistic. Yanchuk’s bass provides thorough and fertile ground for this kind of insanity to thrive on though it must be noted that the slightly sub-par production does somewhat enshroud part of the bass.
Mitochondrion’s use of slow tempo breaks is much more frequent and more extensive here than on “Parasignosis”. Along with “Into the Pit of Babel”, tracks like “Agonizing (In the Shadow of the Hammerblow)” and the slower haunting “Wraithlike” have their moments of relative calmness. These periods of calmness help in introducing a heterogeneous aspect to the album that would otherwise have led to a saturation of sound. These moments also help in setting the listener up for knocking him down again with the usual onslaught. These occasional jolts help in keeping the listener’s interest alive throughout the 50-minute playtime of “Archaeaeon”.
The last half of the album flows smoothly from the first thanks to two well-crafted pieces. The unearthly interlude “Descent” carries the album from the strong “Oath In Defiance”(which can leave the listener a little disoriented due to its mind-blowing conclusion) to “Wraithlike” which in turn spins the listener through another roller-coaster ride, a tad slower but no less intimidating. “Akashic Predation” features dense atmosphere and intimidating intensity overlapped with a short- lived break in the middle and a finish that features Doom metal-esque riffs while the fourteen minute “137 (Death's Hedecaratia)” combines the slower parts of “Wraithlike” and the stormy nature of “Oath In Defiance” and “Eternal Contempt of Man” to create another chapter of occult gnosis in a dark eldritch book. The last four minutes of “137” combine with the outro “Organum Exitus” to provide about seven minutes of some of the weirdest ambience ever used to finish an album.
While “Archaeaeon” manages to create an authentic atmosphere and a sprawling aural journey into the esoteric depths of gnosis that the band claims to expound on their site, the slightly weak production of the album dampens their endeavor to a small degree. However, the pros of “Archaeaeon” outweigh the cons just like the number of vowels in the album title outweighs its consonants. “Archaeaeon” is a monolithic brilliancy which during its time was considered extremely difficult to top. Perhaps the fact that it was done later by Mitochondrion themselves is a testament both to the quality of “Archaeaeon” and to the caliber of these brilliant musicians from Canada.