Aquilus – Bellum I (Album Review)

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Darkness envelops the natural world.

Thinking outside the box and conjuring up something that is truly original is often a task best suited to a single individual. Though there is definitely something to be said for the quality of creative results stemming from a consensus of several members of a band, lately it seems that a growing number of one-man projects, particularly in the black metal scene, are making the most auspicious strides into new and exciting territory. The Land Down Under has proven a fertile planting ground for the seeds of solitary extreme metal outfits to blossom into purveyors of a type of sonic eclecticism that is particularly unique, with atmospheric black metal projects such as Midnight Odyssey and Mesarthim offering up highly involved tapestries of existential sorrow and rage. Though the pursuits of Melbourne-based multi-instrumentalist and compositional mastermind Waldorf involve treading a more impact-based path, his sparse output under the Aquilus moniker since 2005 has been similarly otherworldly in scope, and his latest venture into dark and hidden crevices of nature dubbed “Bellum I” is no exception.

In contrast to Midnight Odyssey and various other past and current projects of Queensland native Dis Pater, Waldorf’s outfit ventures regularly into the live setting and consists of five persons when on stage, though the studio creations that come about are almost completely his own. Likewise, his work is further differentiated by a virtuoso level of competency at each of his instruments, most specifically the piano, and the streams of notes that are featured on the more serene instrumental offerings heard on here such as the opening prelude “The Night Winds Of Avila” and the extended interlude “The Moon Isabelline” betray a level of inspiration that one might attribute to Chopin or Brahms. His compositional prowess even extends into the arrangement of live classical instruments, as a pair of violinists and a flautist appear in a guest capacity to augment the atmospheric keyboard passages littering this album, with the haunting Middle Eastern stylings of the instrumental aside “Embered Waters” taking on a particularly vivid character despite its abstract presentation.

“Bellum I” Album Artwork

While the split between atmospheric tapestries of sound and rage-infused explosions into black metal mayhem on this album is just about equal, the approach in reconciling them to each other takes on more of an asymmetrical character not all that dissimilar to the progressive musings common to Opeth and Agalloch. On the one hand, the thudding colossus “Into Wooded Hollows” slams the gauntlet down in a very direct fashion, the dank, slow-trudging feel it adopts is almost akin to death/doom offering, complete with a correspondingly guttural groaning vocal approach. Then again, the massive 13 minute epic slough “Eternal Rest” has more of a traditional; frosty blackened character to it, combined with a rhythmically nuanced set of drum beats eventually gives way to a blasting blizzard right out of the Emperor playbook. Along with the blackened progressive journey through serenity and disquiet “The Silent Passing” and the more blast-happy nod to the Nordic sound “Lucille’s Gate” (which features a brilliant guitar solo section reminiscent of Necrophobic’s handiwork), these efforts are multifaceted epics that feel like several shorter songs pasted together.

If there is any flaw to this towering monument of musical excellence, it is that it may come off as inaccessible to those who don’t have much experience in extreme metal of any stripe being delivered in a highly progressive fashion. Those not already familiar with such noted gateway drugs into this art such as Opeth’s “Still Life” or pretty much any offering out of Ihsahn following the first dissolution of Emperor may have a hard time following this thing as it progresses through a maze of elaborate twists and turns. It’s not totally off in its own world, and anyone who has even a basic appreciation of extreme and progressive metal should be able to take the plunge without losing themselves. It’s not surprising that this album was preceded by roughly 10 years of studio silence, as this isn’t the sort of music that just flows out of anyone within the span of a couple months. The natural world can be a frightening place, full of untold mysteries that could easily confound human reason, this album is among the more apt soundtracks to that fact to come to light in recent years.

Released By: Blood Music
Release Date: December 3rd, 2021
Genre: Atmospheric Metal / Black Metal

AQUILUS is:

  • Horace Rosenqvist / Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Synths

Additional Musicians:

  • Zebadee Scott / Percussion
  • Hayley Anderson & Troy Schafe / Violin
  • Sasha Chaply / Operatic Vocals
  • Sara Orania / Fipple Flutes

“Bellum I” track-listing:

  1.  The Night Winds of Avila
  2. Into Wooded Hollows
  3. Eternal Unrest
  4. Moon Isabelline
  5. The Silent Passing
  6. Embered Waters
  7. Lucille’s Gate
  8. Empyreal Nightsky

9.1 Excellent

A lone multi-instrumentalist and creative mastermind out of Melbourne, ups the ante once again by delivering up a colossal monument of folksy, virtuosic and atmospherically rich black metal, conjured from the darkest recesses of the natural world

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 9
  • Production 9
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1 Comment

  1. First hearing seems to sound like the super album Veil of Imagination from Wilderun.
    High hopes!

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