RETRO TUESDAYS: Aeternus – Beyond the Wandering Moon (1997)

Incensed by the thriving and competitive early 90’s black metal scene in Bergen, Norway Ares aka Ron Hovland formed Aeternus more or less alongside groups like Gorgoroth and Hades, with Borknagar nor far behind post-Molested. Of their compatriots early Aeternus‘ compositions resembled Hades (later Hades Almighty) closest but their style also contained death metal and Ulver-like pagan black metal elements as well. The ‘Walk My Path’ demo from 1994 gave only a muffled hint of the greatness they’d leap towards on their renowned 1995 EP ‘Dark Sorceries’ which surprisingly didn’t resemble Hades‘ ‘…Again Shall Be’ which invoked far more Bathory than expected. The death metal vocals and folk-ish melodic guitar work was at once epic and harshly black metal in execution. As such Aeternus had more or less differentiated themselves from their Bergen fellowes by absorbing elements from all over the Norwegian extreme metal scene of the time.

After Ares’ stint as bassist in Gorgoroth between their second and third albums the project took on Morrigan aka Nicola Trier on bass, who would stay with the band for their early classic trilogy of albums as well as session work on ‘Ascension of Terror’ as they began to lean into death metal. Her presence was vitally important to the band’s early full-length discography with her piano/keyboard work helping the band’s melodic/black/death/folk sound stretch into greater atmosphere and detail. Likewise her bass guitar performances are notably audible and dynamic throughout, something more common in Bergen black metal bands compared to the raw-doggin’ Oslo folks at the time.

Even more rousing and notable here are the efforts of drummer Vrolok, whose combination of thickly hammered double-bass drumming and black/folk metal appropriate rides escalated Aeternus to professional level drum performances. His performances on the first six Aeternus records showed great versatility in general but his work on ‘Beyond the Wandering Moon’ is particularly unexpected and on par with that of ‘Far Away From the Sun’. Ares himself continued his ambitions from ‘Dark Sorcery’ into something invoking an ever expanding vision of Molested-like death metal suffocation, and Ulver meets Enslaved sort of viking/folks inspired black metal rhythms. It wasn’t far from what Borknagar were doing on their 1996 self-titled debut but the two records deserve separate analysis and respect for their innovation and masterpiece quality.

‘Beyond the Wandering Moon’ is not simply a black metal record and instead occupies a space entirely it’s own and much of this is due to the breathtaking production from Pytten. Eirik Hundvin is a legend of Norwegian black metal’s second wave and though you might not know who the strange-looking rock bassist is he recorded, produced, or mixed every band I’ve mentioned in this review so far as well as Burzum, Immortal, Old Funeral, TaakeWindir and several more notable groups. With Pytten fully at the helm, and several years deep into his craft, they found a dynamic and full sound that was appropriate for Ares‘ intended ‘dark metal’ approach. This ‘dark metal’ idea combined both epic black metal intent and death metal aggression in equal terms and would expand into other styles of extreme metal beyond this debut album.

So, what makes ‘Beyond the Wandering Moon’ special is it’s full and unique approach that quickly stretched it’s wings of ambition beyond the norms of Norwegian black metal. I’d like to call it pagan black metal inspired but in the mid-to-late 90’s it wouldn’t have been appropriate as Helheim and Primordial had established pagan black metal as something spiritually separate at the time. I’d also like to call it melodic black metal and again point towards Sacramentum‘s debut for both the adept use of melodic movements and intense drumming but the guitar work aims more for flow rather than complex melodic themes. Some of great allure of early Aeternus records are their defiance to fit into any one defined sub-genre hole and each remains a brutally melodic, epic and memorable folk (or doom)-tinged extreme metal release.

As I slowly converted into a black metal fan after a decade of defiance ‘Beyond the Wandering Moon’ was, and continues to be, an enormous blip on my radar. Not only does the album carry an appreciation for old school death metal heaviness but Ares‘ talent for inherently melodic structures and epic song lengths (7-8 minutes on average) serves as an admirable indoctrination to a wider spectrum of extreme metal textures that were only possible with black metal’s influence. The guitar work is a hazy, atmospheric rendering that still manages a muscular thunder upon the release that was completely unrivaled by most late 90’s black/death albums. It also represents a truly strong mixture of the atmospheric qualities of black metal translated into death metal’s rumbling attack.

At a full hour ‘Beyond the Wandering Moon’ is oppressive, haze-inducing and begins to drag slightly as the implementation begins to hit upon redundant song structures. So, even though I consider it one of the best black metal-related releases of all time I understand it is overly long and an example of excess drive and inspiration. I have equally high praise for the band’s second album ‘…And So the Night Became’ and recommend both to fans of melodic black metal, atmospheric death metal, black/death metal, black folk/metal, and everything in between that is so strongly represented in Aeternus‘ debut.

beyondthewanderingmoon

Artist Aeternus
Type Album
Released April 14th, 1997
Listen on YouTube! Follow Aeternus on Facebook
Genres

Wind, blow your storms. 5.0/5.0

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