RETRO TUESDAYS: Crystal Age – Far Beyond Divine Horizons (1995)

Although the big city kids in At the Gates were cooking up world-bending forms of Swedish death metal in Göteborg, down south in Billdal, Sweden the kids in Striker were onto something of their own as the Morbid Angel and Autopsy spurned infection spread across Europe. By 1991 the band was named Ceremonial Oath and although ‘The Book of Truth’ was a merely ‘good’ death metal record none of it was adventurous enough for main songwriters Jesper Strömblad (In Flames) and Oscar Dronjak who would both split with the band in 1993 to form power metal legends HammerFall and the long ignored Crystal Age. In hindsight ‘The Book of Truth’ was a soft introduction to Dronjak‘s technical and progressive guitar arrangements and the high concept album that’d become ‘Far Beyond Divine Horizons’

Every few tracks form one of five Acts in a science fiction epic clearly inspired by Nocturnus‘ ‘Thresholds’ and ‘The Key’ [Hint: Jesus is involved?] but this influence also translates into Dronjak‘s fast-paced technical leads and cluster-blasted riffing. Most vital to this energetic and ripping death metal album is the already sharp chemistry between two former Liers in Wait members Hans Nilsson (Drums) and Moses Jonathan (Guitars) if nothing else they bring further urgency to Dronjak‘s violent seance of the cosmic undead. As Crystal Age came to form within the bursting Göteborg melodic death metal scene In Flames had struck gold with ‘Lunar Strain’ and while the rest of the scene did their best to follow Dronjak‘s musical direction became more technical and avoidant of those softer aspects.

It would be his opus contribution to death metal’s history and one of my personal favorite Swedish death metal records. The aggression of early At the Gates and the melodic weight of Dissection collide with a devout interest in thrash metal for an album that is both technically sound and highly melodic without losing the edge of pure death metal. There are very few analogs for this style although the earliest records from Runemagick have some similar ideas. Much like Seance‘s ‘Fornever Laid to Rest’ the power of this record is when they’re going full-blast and when things slow down they begin to get slightly aimless. This is the nature of some assumed ‘Piece of Time’ influence but it doesn’t always work. As a side note the lyrics are a bat-shit space opera where SkyHawk… look it’s basically Keeper of the Seven Keys but Star Wars if the goal was transcending time and space.

Elements of melodic black metal creep into several songs and I find this offers an impressive template for how to integrate influence from another nearby genre without blatantly recreating other’s riffs. A rarity in hindsight of the Gothenburg scene as musicians clustered together in rehearsal spaces as followers of a new creed. Is ‘Far Beyond Divine Horizons’ as originally conceived and monolithic as similar forbears? I would argue that it shouldn’t matter if you’re listening to music beyond historical value. This is a rare case of a musician capable of refining the ideas of his peers into a technically savage amalgam of that youthful blasphemic intensity. It isn’t so overreaching that it chokes on failing melodic trends nor is it so technical that it loses the power of direct-to face riff salad fests like ‘Spiritually Controlled Art’. There is wisdom and balance in Crystal Age‘s sole release that will appeal to folks who see the bigger picture of early 90’s Swedish death metal and the massive influence classic thrash and Florida death metal had upon Gothenburg.

Of course the band would soon dissolve as HammerFall became priority for Dronjak. One release this densely arranged and stylized is honestly enough for a lifetime’s listening and I’ve no doubt the reformation of Ceremonial Oath since 2012 won’t amount to anything of -great- worth, nor will it recapture this amplified era of long dead Swedish death. ‘Far Beyond Divine Horizons’ stands as a fossilized hydra of many heads, a beast capable of great malevolence and fury solidified into diamond-like adoration for whoever would discover it. Anyhow, it is a great example of early technical and melodic death/black metal ideas merging into one sharp-as-fuck death metal album.

Artist Crystal Age
Type Album
Released 1995
Listen on YouTube

(Also on Spotify)

 Crystal Age on Metal-Archives
Death Metal,
Melodic Death Metal,
Technical Death Metal

Watching the blood red sun set. 4.25/5.0

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