Review Summary: Blackened death over ill-fated Aquileia.
Dark times fell on the Roman founded city of Aquileia when a quite hyperactive chap that used to throttle around Europe going by the name of Attila the Hun decided to roll over it, ending hundreds of years of cultural riches and bountiful commerce. The beautiful region of Friul, in northern Italy, is deeply rooted in this piece of history, and it has befallen to its sons (and daughter) to tell the story of its downfall through, as if there was any other way... Furious war-themed blackened death metal!
This is also a first for the Friulians. Since their inception in 2012, the band had only released a couple of EPs prior to the release of Aquileia Mater Aeterna
. Published through UK based independent label Cult of Parthenope, the band's debut is a cohesive collection of well-executed riffs and metal grandiose, ranging from melodic death metal shenanigans to the withering beauty of some black metal passages.
The songs are ambitiously long, starting off with "Sulcus Primigenius/Under the Sign of the Eagle", which introduces the album with a folky mesh of acoustic strumming before getting into business. The band doesn't rush into the heat of the battle, building up tension through blast beats and overarching melodies instead, as the track constantly progress into something else, without much repetition, while keeping the structure of the song surprisingly robust.
"Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum", which roughly translates (if my high school years of Latin do not fail me) as "If you want peace, prepare for war", is one of the highlights of the album and, also, the shortest tune. This compact formula works well for Gates of Doom, who sport a sound that has been devised by producer Davide Zago with a raw and aggressive approach creating a loyal portrait of the fantastic artwork made by Chilean painter Sebastian Salvo, whose art I strongly commend you to check. The battle depicted in Gates of Doom's fuming debut rages on in "I, The Eagle..." and "The Galenus Plague", the heart of the album per se, where the black metal influences the band have incorporated into their music emerge loud and proud.
"Under a Treacherous Domain" introduces a brief respite with a very short folk intro that is soon obliterated by the crushing power chords of Manuel Scapinello and Francesco Nobile's respective six strings while Luca Franzin's bass can be felt dancing around these notes gracefully. It's one aspect of the album I personally enjoyed, the fact that it's easy to sense the bass' presence instead of having it buried under an unsurmountable load of riffs. Stefano Declich's growls are effective for the most part, with only a few verses that feel out of place in "I, The Eagle, The Strength, The Power" and some questionable spoken word passages tied to the story the band wants to convey.
By the time "Attila, Flagellum Dei" hits, Gates of Doom wants you to partake in the fear and terror that the craziest of Huns inflicted into their homeland. Through slow and heavy shredding, they present the final days of Aquileia, as they unfold in the closing track, which bears the same name as the band's debut and, maybe strategically, the same length as the opening track. This closing track is a sorrowful epilogue, with the above-mentioned spoken word passages describing with detail the horrors that desolated the city. At this point I feel the plodding and creeping tempo of the closer has an intention, a thematically imposed pace that, unaware, drags the album's last breath. As the city agonizes, so does the album, until the sound of waves washes away its last remnants.
Aquileia Mater Aeterna
is a promising debut for the Italians, with its few flaws being veiled behind their passion for their craft. Gates of Doom's first battle against the odds sees them triumphally coming through with a record a long time in the making. Nine years is nothing to scoff at but their motivation to present you the story that shaped their identity has finally given birth to a piece of their own story, and maybe the first of many more to come.