Review Summary: Bal-Sagoth deliver yet another excellent slab of symphonic black metal.
In the early 90's, the black metal scene in the United Kingdom was beginning to gain recognition from metal fans around the globe due to the likes of bands such as Cradle of Filth and Hecate Enthroned releasing albums like The Principal of Evil Made Flesh
and The Slaughter of Innocence, a Requiem for the Mighty
respectively. Around this same time the English symphonic black metal band Bal-Sagoth were releasing cult classic albums within the same scene like A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria
and Starfire Burning Upon the Ice-Valed Throne of Ultima Thule
with their own unique take on the U.K. black metal sound. These two albums would go on to become what the band is mainly known for and are considered by many to be classics within the symphonic black metal genre.
Fast-forward to 2001 and Bal-Sagoth is still at it with their fifth full-length album, Atlantis Ascendant
, which is yet another entry in their already established symphonic black metal sound. The album is generally seen as a sequel of sorts to 1999’s The Power Cosmic
and is quite similar to said album both thematically and stylistically. This, of course, begs the question of what this band and more specifically, this album, actually sounds like.
As previously mentioned, Bal-Sagoth plays symphonic black metal, but simply labeling them as such would not be accurate, as they sound nothing like bands such as Dimmu Borgir and Emperor. The band has a large amount of power metal influence in their sound and on Atlantis Ascendant
this influence is readily apparent. Aside from simply containing lyrics about warriors, battles, and mythological places, the album has a lot of fast, tremolo picked riffs that are a staple of the power metal genre along with soaring melodic guitar leads. When the riffs aren’t power metal they are instead playing what I would describe as melodic black metal. On top of this, the vocals on the album are made up of about fifty percent narration which is also not something that is common for black metal or metal bands in general. The rest of the vocals are the black metal rasps that one would expect from the genre. Tracks such as “Atlantis Ascendant” and “In Search Of The Lost Cities Of Antarctica” are a good example of how Bal-Sagoth is able to merge these different styles of playing together successfully.
As one could guess, the performances on Atlantis Ascendant
are fantastic all across the board. Firstly, the vocals done by the mastermind behind the band, Byron Roberts, are executed well across the span of the entire album. His raspy shrieks have pretty fast delivery and fit the music well, especially during faster parts of the album, while his narration is easily understood and adds a lot to the fantastical atmosphere of the album. The guitars on Atlantis Ascendant
are once again handled by Chris Maudling who is clearly a very talented guitarist. His playing has a lot of variation to it and several of the riffs that he plays over the span of the album are pretty complex. On top of that, the riffs and leads on Atlantis Ascendant
are fantastic and are liable to get stuck in the listeners head after a listen or two. The keyboards on the album are handled by Johnny Maulding and are one of the main contributors to the band’s unique sound. The keyboards on the album give the music an epic fantasy vibe akin to bands such as Summoning that gels with the mythological theme of the album perfectly. The drums on Atlantis Ascendant
are handled by Dave Mackintosh who would go on to join DragonForce after this album's release. Obviously, his drumming is great throughout. There is a good variety of double bass and blast beats that are played throughout along with slower drum patterns in the sections where the album slows down and becomes more atmospheric. Lastly, the bass on the album is handled by Mark Greenwell whose playing is almost completely inaudible throughout the entire album, which is the sole fault of an otherwise excellent production job.
Despite the excellent musicianship and performances, it should be noted that Bal-Sagoth is often seen as a love it or hate it kind of band. Many listeners take issue with the fact that the band’s sound contains a lot of narration, which is not something that is common in the black metal genre. On top of this, the band has a tendency to get pretty cheesy at times with some of the lyrics being in a fictional language that Robert’s made up for his universe that the lyrics take place in, however if the listener is able to accept this fact, there is an excellent album here that most fans of symphonic metal should be able to get into. In the end, I would highly recommend Atlantis Ascendant
to fans of black metal, specifically bands such as Cradle of Filth, Stormlord, and Nazgul. The album may also be worth a look from fans of power metal bands such as Rhapsody and Gloryhammer due to the strong power metal influence in Bal-Sagoth’s work.