Style: Melodic Black/Death Metal
Release Date: 25 Jan 2019
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Welsh black metallers Hecate Enthroned have had something of a tumultuous career since they were founded in Wrexham way back in 1995. Band members have come and gone, their musical identity has proved rather fluid and a steady release schedule has evaded them, even though they've never actually split up.
At least this album comes only six years after the last one, compared to the nine between that and its predecessor. With only three albums since 1999's Kings of Chaos, Hecate Enthroned appear to be working to a Guns n' Roses type release schedule and they aren't close to being established enough to get away with that.
The good news is that this is pretty good stuff and if they can knock out another couple of albums of this quality over the next few years, maybe their fandom can coalesce and reviewers can quit treating them like the lesser man's Cradle of Filth. Sure, Sarah Jessica Deva features on a few tracks here, some heavily, but those comparisons were never fair way back and they're less fair now. Cradle of Filth's genre of choice has evolved quite considerably over time and this album sees their old friends and rivals moving notably back towards their old school black metal roots.
The blistering sustained pace of Revelations in Autumn Flame, for instance, is a statement and a half, with symphonic keyboards soaring far above a bleak black metal landscape. Temples That Breathe, the only other track here to clock in at under five minutes, follows suit.
The rest of the album moves into other territory but, especially through the efforts of new vocalist Joe Stamps, who shrieks more than he growls, the band rarely leave the black far behind them. Whispers of the Mountain Ossuary, for instance, is often slower but it's just as shrieky. Deva adds a gothic edge, as her soaring soprano tends to do, but she contributes a layer of texture far more than any change of musical direction. Even her theatrical contribution to Goddess of Dark Misfits with its playful piano never really comes off as gothic, merely gothic flavoured.
There are a few tracks with piano and the band are very fond of wrapping up tracks with it, an approach that may be a little overdone here. None of those tracks work so well as Enthrallment, for instance, where the piano is integral throughout. This is the real highlight for me, a song able to evoke My Dying Bride as much as Emperor and which also knows exactly when to end.
Too many songs here don't, including Erebus and Terror, the nine minute epic that wraps up the album in odd fashion. There's a lot of imaginative stuff going on within it, not least Deva's contribution, but it forgets what it's doing and can't figure out where to go to finish up properly. A black metal album should leave us battered and very aware of the silence that follows it. Embrace of the Godless Aeon, for all the good it does, leaves us wondering what we missed.
Perhaps it's just too long. It marks a welcome return to a sort of form for Hecate Enthroned, but some judicious editing and a little cleanup here and there would have made it a lot more than it ended up being.