Review Summary: Tome II: Book of the Sun (two chapters)Helionomicon
relating to the sun + suffix nomicon - knowledge on the topic (book of the sun)
Unlike its twin, Anthronomicon
, which has a conventional eight-track structure, Helionomicon
is divided into two parts of approximately twenty minutes each. While it's nothing new for bands to explore such vast territories within the genre (Qrixkuor comes to mind), its ambitious nature is undeniable as it involves a significantly different mental and creative process. If I recall correctly, the first time I noticed the difference between a more standard song structure versus a longer one was not on any seventies progressive rock album or psychedelic Krautrock ramblings, but on Live After Death's
version of ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ by the mighty Iron Maiden. Its flow and interlude set it apart from the rest, even when compared to longer tracks like ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ or ‘Powerslave’; a distinction not so apparent here as Ulthar doesn’t use a conventional chorus-versus-chorus structure, but rather a junction of sections that can be repeated or not, which makes listening more complex. The opening song, 'Helionomicon', presents a music sequence that despite its stylistic shifts offers no significant resting point, requiring a redoubled focus throughout the journey. While this doesn't bother me as I'm used to the aesthetic, it may cause some stress to the listener who likes to have room to breathe on such long rides. Whereas the second chapter, 'Anthronomicon', provides those breaks, either through its midway pit stop or via its doom segment, which help to clear the mind and ears. By this, I don't mean that it is superior to 'Helionomicon', yet its more straightforward approach and pronounced fluctuations make it somewhat more accessible than its intricate predecessor.
Twenty-minute compositions, as expected, allow the band to further explore their versatility and creative spectrum, bringing together in a single piece of music the styles and influences that have shaped Ulthar into what they are today. It's interesting to see how the lads re-discover the spirit of their debut, Cosmovore
, through the sludge(ish) sections of the opener or the aforementioned doom moments of 'Anthronomicon,' blending it with more frenetic and complex passages in a cohesive formula. While 'Helionomicon' has a more challenging personality, with constant riffing, tempo changes, and style twists, 'Anthronomicon' is more linear and orthodox, yet still daring in its approach. I'd say they complement each other without being too far apart, if that makes any sense. That's what happens to blood brothers. Once again, Steve Peacock and Shelby Lermo's songwriting styles mesh beautifully, and their chemistry with Justin Ennis' drumming is something to behold. The slow-paced sludge(ish) moment or the left hand finger tapping on 'Helionomicon', and the many tasty tremolo picking on 'Anthronomicon' are among my personal highlights, as is the Vektor-esque riff on the latter. And though neither song reaches truly epic stratospheres due to the intrinsic characteristics of each composer, both provide quite interesting trips if you stay focused on the path.
In response to the question posed in Anthronomicon
, Ulthar's Helionomicon
brings nothing new to the table other than its structural singularity, but neither does it disappoint at any point in its journey. It is a masterfully crafted hybrid diptych representing yet another piece of a puzzle that has been unveiling one of the most interesting soundscapes in contemporary extreme metal.