ILDARUNI – Beyond Unseen Gateways (2021)REVIEW

Because Urzana, the king, their prince, did not fear the command of Ashur, […] I planned to carry off the people of that city and I ordered the god, Haldi, the protector of Urartu, be brought out. Triumphantly, I caused him to take his seat by his city gate; his sons, his daughters, his people, seeds of his father’s house, I plundered.Sargon II’s Letter to Aššur

Monarchic fortresses sit crumbling atop mountains, their royal tombs cut into promontories nearly three thousand years ago persist as mythic ancestral cells despite their sacking for a millennia. The dignity of ancient cultures was of little concern to those burning them to the ground as the twilight of the Bronze Age arrived alongside the three century reign of the Urartu region, today’s Armenian highlands. For as long as the history of science has granted archaeologists expeditions to these regions the history books all read with similar preface; The antiquities that would teach us of the Biainili region during this time, as well as the Hittites before them and the Hurrians concurrent, have been robbed by opportunists and eroded by time. Ancient tablets crushed, impressive artefacts stolen and handed down amongst generations of conqueror kings, and beyond that some key regions have been tangentially volatile for at least a century. Cuneiform dedications to public buildings and post-conquer propaganda read dryly yet provide a sense of diverse coexistence, brutal caste to be sure but an inviting collection of folk from all surrounding regions who’d sport their own core triad of impressive deities. Most of this lineage would assimilate with Armenian culture as it solidified in the sixth century as Urartu would remain a distant ancestral calling without too-clear answers. Armenian epic melodic/pagan black metal quartet Ildaruni not only hail from Yerevan, the capitol and major territory to eventually succeed these ancient civilizations since roughly the seventh century BCE, but they specifically draw great inspiration from channeling the wonder and majesty their ancient pagan predecessors. Their debut full-length, ‘Beyond Unseen Gateways‘, echoes the ancient melting pot wisdom of their origins via auld melodic and folk traditions apropos for generations since, positing all potential pathways unto apothanatismos, an ascent unto immortal enlightenment.

The thrill of discovering a keystone civilization that’d been crushed, burnt to the ground and looted of its hidden ancestral relics might not be entirely as inspiring as the imaginative wonder it takes to fill in the blanks in positing the likely details of a polytheistic culture that’d been a proud blip on road filled with ambitious conquerors. If this sort of thing doesn’t interest you as a frequent listener of either pagan black metal, black/folk metal, or even melodic black metal I’d maybe suggest a lyric sheet as an exercise in much needed imaginative cultivation. Sourcing atmosphere, melodicism, and lyricism from forgotten cultures does occasionally land black metal upon specious pratfall but in the case of Ildaruni the material has its own stylistic gathering of influences that read as professional, intelligent and vitally spiritual. The “catch” is perhaps that their style cannot help but be incredibly forward with its influences. This was admittedly less obviate when faced with their first demo (‘Towards Subterranean Realms‘, 2018), a two song showcase of what to expect from ‘Beyond Unseen Gateways’ that’d include a slightly less rhythmically refined version of the first single, “Treading the Path of Cryptic Wisdom“, which is admittedly the album seller here for various reasons. What I didn’t hear so back in 2018 that I do now is the prominent influence from Rotting Christ, specifically (but not entirely) the material nearby the “comeback” moment that ‘Theogonia‘ would provide for the legacy act in the late 2000’s. This is not a superficial comparison and as a fan of the popular Greek band since the late 90’s I might even suggest Ildaruni are outshining the post-‘Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού’ material right out the gate. Of course there are additional influences to take to heart especially considering Kawir at their highest blend of epic paganistic and folken furies. Use of a tin whistle and even bagpipes on three songs creates a melodic voicing that helps Ildaruni characterize their own sound which should be a comfortable run-in for fans of early Equilibrium and perhaps later Nokturnal Mortum on some level. There’ll be no escaping that ‘Beyond Unseen Gateways’ sounds like a brilliant modern Greek black metal record to some degree and the band are not being coy about this similar feeling and influence, they’ve even gone with a mix and master via George Emmanuel (Lucifer’s Child, ex-Rotting Christ) to achieve a truly professional and dramatic rendering.

For my own taste in heroic, ever-climbing ‘epic’ black metal Ildaruni have hit this debut out of the park, exceeded all expectations and delivered a dead serious knockout of a first impression. There are many bands outside of the auld pantheon playing something akin to this style of music yet few come anywhere near the genuine article, much less with an angle of their own arcane ancestral heritage and appreciably ‘modern but not soulless’ high standard of fidelity. The “catch” is that it’ll be difficult to not hear the influential hand of Saki Tolis and compatriots in terms of both guitar technique and vocal arrangements as one approaches and delves into ‘Beyond Unseen Gateways’. The most effective pieces often pay some of this debut forward but I do not intend to fully enforce this observation, after a few listens and even some direct comparisons it is clear that Ildaruni are ultimately doing their own thing or at the very least pulling from many corners of pagan black metal despite a recognizable structural constant holding it all together. The extended melodic reveal of “Perpetual Vigil” is a fine example of middle eastern music enriching the album from afar yet these moments generally landed under my radar on casual listens as the use of tin whistle otherwise tended to spark, and speak to, to the Celtic/Irish music enriched part of my brain. In this sense Ildaruni are travelers whom clearly appreciate the broader pagan/folk black metal craft no matter the cultural infusion and I would imagine this will broaden the appeal of the band beyond the expectation of specifically Armenian musical influences, though I think exploring the (admittedly subtle) duduk as a similar feature to the flute might be equally if not more effective.

“Arakha” is of particular note beyond the norm on this record and perhaps the one song I’d consider a deep cut due to its pure melodic black metal opening vignette and uninterrupted flow beyond that initial build. Though songs like “Treading the Path of Ancient Wisdom” provide the bombast and the hook that will get folks tied to Ildaruni‘s graces, songs like “Arakha” and “Perpetual Vigil” provide great value for folks such as myself, aiming for records that persist through the long haul of repeated appreciation. Though I wouldn’t mind even deeper picking through the innards of ‘Beyond Unseen Gateways’ the gist of it is that the level of songcraft, melodicism and invigorating arcane themes make its experience a joy to simply listen to for the sake of its pleasurably consonant heroic feats. The whole package considered, including fine artwork from guitarist Mark Erskine, speaks to a band using every resource available to arrive at a highest standard, rendering Ildaruni almost instantly notable in my book. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Beyond Unseen Gateways
LABEL(S):Black Lion Records
RELEASE DATE:March 19th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Pagan Black Metal,
Melodic Black Metal

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