Review Summary: Great metal film music, much virtuosity!
"Dark Moon Rising" is the debut album from Vienna-based virtuoso Achwalt and his solo-project Clashing Harmony. It is sophisticated progressive metal and can be best described as a combination of slow-paced Djent and film music with heavy orchestra styled themes. I've not really heard something that pompous before. It's a bit like Meshuggah with less complex rhythm, Haken but with 8-string guitars or early Symphony X but with less focus on neoclassical guitarplay. To make it short: If you like MaYan's lates release Dhyana, you will probably love this one as well.
The opener "Mood Changes" starts calmer than you would expect. After roughly two minutes you wonder when the intro will ever end. Yes, it's one of those prog songs... To be precise, all of the eight contained songs are of this nature, and they last anywhere between 8 to 14 minutes per track. The main theme is introduced by an oboe which is then lead towards an interlude by piano. If you were waiting for it up to now, the metal really starts at one minute in when it hits you with full distortion and brutal 8-string riffs. There is a lot in here. And Achwalt is a fast and technically skilled guitarist - He does not show it like an Yngwie Malmsteen in every solo, but there is at least two majorly speedy parts in every song on this album.
It is also clearly visible that a lot of world-building was thought into the composition: Practically the artwork informs you about a devastated world where the rise of a dark moon leads to some sudden and dramatic events. You may infer the story from the albums song titles, but as Achwalt states on his bandcamp: It is up to your own fantasy and imaginations. And I like that!
In terms of composition, the structure here evidently follows the classical sonata form: Typically each song introduces the main theme in a little exposition, then varies it over the course of the development in a super-stretchy way to finally conclude in the recapitalization. Most songs then also include a coda at the end, which is mostly a totally new theme. Since this is not very common in metal, the listener might get the impression that it is actually 3 songs merged and repacked to one. But it is not really, actually. I sometimes had to listen three times to discover which instruments played the theme or a varied form of it at which time. This shows great skill and depth.
The selection of instruments ranges from your typical average Joe metal band, a full-blown music orchestra to even some electronic synth-sketches. The arrangement is spot on so that instruments collide only rarely with each other. The quality of the orchestral libraries used is really high as well here. This is not your Garriton Orchestra out of the thin can.
My favorite songs of this album would include "Mood Changes", "Cosa Nostra" and "Awaken Thy Horrors". A bit underwhelming is "Endlessness": It's one of the easy songs if you wish. A bit too simple, a bit too poppy.
Another not-so-great thing here is the mastering. If I have to criticize, then it's that. Very much focused on the mids, not so much nice bass-frequencies, lots of treble. The bass mix is probably the least good part here. Listening to it I have the feeling it really wants to pump my ears out. Too much of the sub-frequencies that cause stress longer term. It's not an issue on a nice HiFi, but definitely on quality headphones (like my beyer DT-770). This is why I have to deduct a star.
I sincerely hope that we will see more of this artist. And I hope that he will eventually upload somewhere else than just bandcamp. Really, how can you not put your music on Spotify or amazon? But for now: Go on Achwalt, we want more!