AGES – Uncrown (2020)REVIEW

The burning solar wheel of Ixion — The impossible notion of balance in the impermanent yet hopelessly obfuscated dimension of devolved human reason today sees spear and corpse-built walls piled high; High enough to blind newborn minds from any future hope or past learning, high enough to enfeeble the eldest as they are stomped into diseased mush or shoved into isolating corridors of rot and neglect. Skeletal drones consume and shit in place, growing piles of yellow and green sickness splattering their toxicity atop the scorched and graven annals of human history. Learn nothing, craft nothing, exist only in self-defeat to feed the growing cult of bad-faith id ’til death… and leave a crater of reeking absurdism behind. Purposeless and chaotically resonant followers serve unreasonably blind and drained husks in place of masters, there can be no appreciation of handiwork when mankind is so busy drowning in pestilence and fear. The choice to deprive the master, the ruler and the societally pardoned rotating chair of the executioner is forgivably murderous and uncouth yet human history has shown great levity to those who’d shear the head at the neck to free the crown’s grasp. Central Sweden-based melodic black metal duo Ages seeks usurpation not for the sake of wearing the crown but rather the satisfaction of lobbing the head and freeing the greater tension of unjust rule. Heroic as they are venomous on this second album, ‘Uncrown’, the Falun-borne project represent an impressive apex executioner built upon several generations of Swedish melodic black metal tradition.

With five years between albums and a somewhat slow, methodical ear for the finest interrelated arrangements via emotionally engaging black metal histrionics, Ages appear from the mist of time intent on timeless mastery. They will not be forgotten for ‘Uncrown’ yet it’d seem their first album (‘The Malefic Miasma‘, 2015) is yet under-appreciated — It was a dramatically staged melodic black metal Opéra-tragédie, a seamless set of serious and dramatic pieces intertwined with their own sort of power metallic leitmotif. That debut was notable not only for its muscled melodic aggression and ‘epic’ ease but for characteristic bits of processed and obscure speech that’d craft dread from the voice of an ominous speaker. ‘Uncrown’ is a much more focused beast in most regards, which could be viewed as derailing the somewhat convoluted presentation of its many-armed, many-legged predecessor for the sake of a more profound and clarified sort of consonant beauty. It is a stream just as certain Swedish black metal agents intended back in the mid-90’s, differing its most-powerful lunge by way of oscillating pacing and plenty of mid-tempo pulpit slamming tirades that are joyously entertained via strong and unceasing use of classicist melodicism. Think of the ultimate steadied march unto spiritual warfare via Dissection‘s ‘ReinkaΩs’ (original Ages bassist Brice Leclercq played on that album, actually) with the ornate, ceaseless barrage of ‘Nachthymnen (From The Twilight Kingdom)’ warmed and slowed by the slashing fires of Helios.

In more direct terms, a melodic death metal fascination as modern as say, Netherbird or Wormwood precedes and follows the experience while maintaining the propulsive momentum and heavier voicing of the grand blustering works of Swedish melodic black metal ranging from ungodly greats Sacramentum and Vinterland all the way up towards a tinge of folk/black metal when the attack was still bit fresh a la ‘Nordstjärnans Tidsålder’ and nearby. Because of this well-groomed folkish bent and adornment the scale and feeling of these songs may intermittently call to mind later Thyrfing and perhaps a more black metal oriented analogue for groups like King of Asgard. This could be some remnants of flair rubbing off of keyboardist/programmer Daniel Beckman‘s station in Twilight Force whom guitarist, vocalist, and bassist Andreas Olander (Volturyon) has provided session guitars for over the years; If you don’t see this analogue at first jump to “Pyres” or “Undivine” in the meantime. Still, I’d offer the suggestion that ‘Uncrown’ feels as if its intent is to collect the best of melodic black metal over the last three decades (an “aggregation” in their own words) and find a most refined, exemplar statement that is uncomplicated yet hooks into the listener via rhythmic simpatico of old. It works across the board as Ages retain their ability to thrill with melody but never fully dive into self-indulgent cheese. Well, there is a bit of drama at every turn but always with some sincere affect apropos for the commanding, most conflagratory lyrics.

My own love for basically everything even remotely ‘melodic black metal’ had me perked at the ears as Ages wastes no time diving into their sublimely harmonized rhythm guitar work as the triumphant tremolo’d score of “Burn Them” reveals its battering hymn to action. This moment is incredible, almost daunting in its fiery entrance and palpably impassioned rasp. It bears mention that my ears are so jaded to disingenuous growls that it felt particularly rending to sit beneath Hvergelmer‘s snarling evisceration. In essence this isn’t a direct stylistic ancestor to a favored classic such as ‘Nær sólen gar niþer for evogher’ but my own mental chemistry reacts similarly, hailing down endorphins that sway the head and leave the mind wandering far from the body. Perhaps more easily likened to the unceasing bliss of an early Eucharist record, ‘Uncrown’ is relentlessly in the pocket of this epic, gloomy resonance that is aggressively Wagnerian in its siege-and-recede motion. Fluidity across strongly defined forms eliminates ‘rock’ edges and this easily accessed sense of shimmering, glorious movement across grand landscapes again speaks to Ages characteristic interrelation of pieces, all waters flow towards the same goal and through each biome filters the greater soil of ‘Uncrown’. As such, the flood of austere-yet-intimate melodic black metal pieces fire off in a row as movements in one grand piece whilst still retaining the feeling of ‘singles’ and standalone songs thanks to effective, memorable songwriting.

How to pick standouts, then? In this case I’d feel as if I’m cheapening the interrelated flow-path of ‘Uncrown’ by suggestion certain points of superiority. I will say that “Herolds of Enslavement” emphasizes chorus effectively, that “Dominionism” offers some instant gratification as it drills right to the point with a soaring melodic grinder, and that “Undivine” has a similarly immediate pull for its lead-off guitar hook which is effectively reprised. Therein lies the issue as I could quite literally name each song on the album for some good reason and it feels shit to not mention the title track’s almost Rotting Christ-esque thrust or the incredibly catchy melodies that gild “Illicit State”. Sure, I’ve some smaller gripes such as the some of the earlier Amon Amarth-esque vocal patterns and doubled emphasis on certain chorus lines reading somewhat “typical” and slightly more viking metal adjacent than others. Most of these issues iron themselves out quickly or become part of Ages‘ developing charm with successive listens. It is fair enough to assume long-time fans of this style of music won’t find ‘Uncrown’ to be the most original or sharp-edged melodic black metal album of all time but, nonetheless a fantastically rendered vision that could be approached by anyone who’d found the sub-genre in the 90’s, 00’s or 2010’s and easily fall right into its amber pools of restoration. I am surely glowing over it and unceasingly so since the first listen. ‘Uncrown’ is easy to recommend and quickly speaks for itself no matter which piece you hit first, a high recommendation.

High recommendation.

Rating: 8 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Black Lodge Records
RELEASE DATE:August 21st, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Melodic Black Metal

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