Occasionally, it feels like in black metal’s quest to evolve and incorporate new elements, some of the original rawness has been lost, the days of teeth-gritted, bloody-minded, shadowy perdition appear often to be a distant memory, hazed with the pernicious sepia of word-of-mouth rumours regarding the bands secret desires, and the oft-laughable moral panic it generated amongst god-fearing parents across the western world. Where has this energy gone? Where has this rebellious streak disappeared to, when now black metal converges upon recycling its traditional satanic themes over and over again to the point where it has become irkingly trite, where all meaning once generated by the themes in a more conservative world is rendered moot by social progress, and numbness to the themes through acquaintance. So how does a band that wants to not just stylistically represent black metal, but also embody the traditions around it do so in a modern world? Well, I would suggest that Frozen Dawn do a pretty good job of it with their most recent and third album, “The Decline of Enlightened Gods” even if they don’t exactly reinvent things thematically – instead they use their excellent compositional skills and fairly balanced production to evoke the feelings that Black metal used to, before it became infested with hipster nonsense.
You’re left in no doubt as to the aspirations of “The Decline of Enlightened Gods” when at the start of “Mystic Dark Fires of Dark Allegiance” the heavily distorted, buzzsaw guitars bite into life following a rather fleeting ambient bar. Shades of crimson bedeck the twisted easel Frozen Dawn gaze upon, as they lash helpings of murky tone upon the listener, and chain them down like a moribund sacrifice with immensely theatrical riffage that has groove and abrasion in equal parts, before the piece eventually gorges upon you with a dirge of monotonous bile, going on upon the conclusion of such a part to repeat the process again, but with seemingly greater aggression, and a more resolved decision to attack the listener again.
Yet, despite such an aural assault, no quarter is given in “Spellbound” which as the name might suggest, inspires visions of encasement in a prison of mana, harnessed by those following a demiurge who cares not for his followers, and instead wishes merely to make them his playthings. Some meta-commentary may well be invoked by such a concept, as it feels very much like Frozen Dawn are the demiurge here, and with their energetic, haranguing, boisterous compositions, they are leaving you transfixed in the foul yet resplendent light of their music. It could be said that “Spellbound” is a little too full on, and for some listeners this will absolutely be true – it does sit on a higher level of heaviness than what most black metal listeners familiar with more contemporary acts will be familiar with (not to say genuinely heavy metal is dead by any means) but I don’t think that in any final sense that it’s too heavy to break into, if effort is directed at multiple listens.
So captivating are the initial throes of “The Decline of Enlightened Gods” that the entire rest of the album is largely justified as a listening prospect by the first two songs alone. Many an album dreams to start as well as this, as of course, an impression of one is so often informed by the first and last moments of it. Whilst it is true that most albums do start in a reasonably compelling manner, I think just the sheer violence with which “The Decline of Enlightened Gods” is the vehicle for not just success here, but noticeable distinction as well.
Relentlessly, “Black Reign Awaits” surges forth with the zeal of a thousand thralls and a menace received so promptly, that the excitement bred through the first three tracks reaches a fever pitch that’s simply astounding. There’s so much to love here, from the sporadic usage of driving percussion separate from the litany of blast beats that adorn other sections of the track, to the immaculately handled vocal performance that hits all the typical notes of the genre but retains a bestial quality beyond that which is often cultivated in black metal, and instead has parallels with it’s thrashier cousin, death metal. All in all, no momentum is lost in any sense of the term in “Black Reign Awaits” and the album continues to become more and more enjoyable.
You ever have it where a riff sounds familiar, and yet totally distinct from anything else you’ve heard at the same time, in a seeming contradiction? The rapidly descending riff at the start of “Frozen Kings” is riff royalty insofar as it is able to take something seemingly so cast in stone, and then reinvent it. This brief moment is not astonishing in itself, but so often the devil is in the detail, and I think in this moment, a lot can be said about what makes “The Decline of Enlightened Gods” so good. See, there is a trend in this album to be somewhat traditional in approach, with smatterings of Burzum present throughout alongside many other common 2nd wave tropes – and yet at no point does it sound like Frozen Dawn have failed to be anything but authentic and largely self-inspired across the whole album.
Consequently, when rapidly approaching the center point of the album, it must be said the album, despite a lack of variety in approach or even general song writing, engagement remains extremely high. So captivating is the core sound of Frozen Dawn that they really need not alter their approach much, as what they have is essentially perfect for the twisted world they’re trying to create in their songs. Not every album has to be a whirlwind of constant change, replete with diverse instrumentation and technically complex ideas, well, unless you only like Prog.
In spite of no change being necessary, Frozen Dawn make one anyway in album midpoint, “Wanderer of Times” with some doomy, more focused segments, melded of course to the traditionally styled Black metal segments that they do so amazingly. At points in this track, Frozen Dawn sound a little bit like their also excellent label-mates over at Transcending Obscurity, Vorga, a band whose nose for a good riff rarely receives competition, but Frozen Dawn are not to be outdone, and “Wanderer of Times” contains some of the best guitar work across the whole of the album, not to mention that the way the track layers up into a super noisy, chaotic clump, with only an incredible solo played over the top of it to provide any separation between elements.
Catastrophic is the only way to describe the outstanding “Oath of Forgotten Past.” No amount of words will do justice to the excellence of it, it knows when to rise, when to fall, when to explode with energy, and when to retreat with caution, every dynamic shift is perfectly placed, and every passage tied together without a mark against it. In this song, a dizzyingly good album reaches its peak.
With the further evolution of “The Decline of Enlightened Gods” there is no doubt left that black metal fans are going to have the album lace their Album of the Year lists, this is what so many of the less blackgaze-loving folks want, maximum attack, maximum coarseness, something uncompromising and unapologetic, something that doesn’t chase trends, but helps reincarnate them. I cannot help but say, even at this earlyish stage in the review, that this album competes with the best black metal albums from bands created post-2010.
Brandishing cursed images of celestial oddities is “Cosmic Black Chaos” be they alien or as a result of the immutable and oft inconceivable forces of the cosmos, it is sure that they are represented in all of their massive form in this track. Perhaps less distinctive than the immediately before it, but featuring more excellent solo-work as compensation, “Cosmic Black Chaos” is another formidable entry, and tackles a theme somewhat less travelled with the same lazer focus as other topics Frozen Dawn have dealt with before.
Up next however, is “The Decline of Enlightened Gods’” title track. When bestowing a track with the honour of being named after the album it sits on, you ensure that it must sit markedly above others the share the album with it. Sadly, whilst being a fine song, “The Decline of Enlightened Gods” is nowhere near as interesting as many of the other songs that have been and gone on it. With a slightly stilted chorus and a greater focus on monotonous noise rather than sonorous and soaring riffs, the effort comes across as accomplished and does have good scale to it, but invariably is a disappointment doubled in nature by the decision to show this as the album’s stylistic determiner via its name.
It speaks volumes however that the lowest point of “The Decline of Enlightened Gods” would still be considered a serviceable entry on albums lesser than it, perhaps falling victim to the quality of its antecedents more than any major compositional or executory flaws. Often times I feel that great albums have a track that sits weakly amongst the rest, and that it can become an undue target of derision, and in some way, I would concede the same of the aforementioned. It is pertinent to say that in no way does the album suffer a great injustice at the hands of it, with no larger impact beyond a minor grumble at its implementation.
The final original composition on offer by Frozen Dawn is the rather pretty and surprising “The Fall of Aeons.” A track that subverts expectations by being largely acoustic, and evoking traditional Spanish guitar music, perhaps as much an ode to the band’s country as much as a conclusive ending. “The Fall of Aeons” should be commended for its individual beauty whilst also admonished for not incorporating anything previously prominent within the album – leaving the real end of the album to be the self-titled track.
After a well-handled cover of Necrophobic’s “Blinded by Light, Enlightened by Darkness,” the album comes to a close, and to be said of it are many compliments. It’s engaging to the extreme, gritty, has its core in the traditions of Black metal without being held hostage by them, has the perfect runtime, has the perfect style of production for the genre, and features moments of incredible virtuosity – especially in the case of the guitar parts. “The Decline of Enlightened Gods” is a phenomenal album that hits the pinnacle of nearly every conceivable metric with seldom a blip, and puts itself in early contention for Album of the Year lists across a broad swath of Metal listeners.
Released By: Transcending Obscurity Records
Release Date: February 10th, 2022
Genre(s): Black Metal
- Arjan Van Der Wijst / Drums
- “Grinder” / Vocals, guitars
- Antonio Mansilla / Bass
“The Decline of Enlightened Gods” track listing:
- Mystic Fires of Allegiance
- Black Reign Awaits
- Frozen Kings
- Wanderer of Times
- Oath of Forgotten Past
- Cosmic Black Chaos
- The Decline of Enlightened Gods
- The Fall of Aeons
- Blinded by Light, Enlightened by Darkness (Necrophobic Cover)
Order “The Decline of Enlightened Gods” HERE.
I don’t need a thousand words to tell you if “The Decline of Enlightened Gods” is worth paying attention to, it is as simple as saying: if black metal is in your wheelhouse, this album is categorically a must listen