ATRIUM – Ancient Spells (2021)REVIEW

For roughly seven days each year the crows gather to roost at the base of our hill, filling the larger trees with deeper shadows and sharing whatever sophisticated information scavenger birds might find useful. Beyond a bit of noise and terror aimed toward any carelessly wandering domesticated predators, little stirs these birds from their business beyond random bouts of mild social tumult. On the hottest years there is always a death, a sharp-toned cackling that rises to cacophony until they find order, or death, amongst their gathering. That most feral and screaming congress, wherein the roost reaches the point of murder in symposium, is exactly the tone of the otherwise restful and gleefully ‘old school’ atmospheric black metal that Copacabana, Colombia-based artist Atrium bring upon us with his debut full-length ‘Ancient Spells‘. The breath that he exhales catches its rasp in throat and shatters the air like the cawing of fifty crows at their most intense, exhaling a public death meant to cut through the ethereal thickness of the experience in reminiscence of the most classic black metal ideals. It is a corpse that he leaves behind, a sparkling husk of ancient black metal let loose of any remaining concern for the world beyond the ‘self’. Through meditation and careful reconstruction of oneiric realms we observe the imaginatively set bond between the artist and his own remarkably presented introspection.

We are eternally linked to the place which we started but that does not mean it is where we belong. In the case of the multi-talented musician Magister L. the moment he’d started playing the guitar, sometime in 1996, we could potentially see this inspired initial bond with the instrument and the extreme metal of the time as a tattooed soul which now arises from the subconscious as if crystallized beneath abraded flesh. Though he’d form Atrium in 2019 as a fresh portal concerned only with the universe within himself and this emotional connection with black metal music, he’d certainly had plenty of experience in numerous projects over the years; Of which Mantus is probably best known and his recent work in Sepulcro being my favorite. For our purposes today the subject leans us towards some necessarily specific definitions of atmospheric black metal and the distinction between what was considered “atmospheric” by design decades before the term was co-opted by the blackened post-metal movement. Broadly speaking, the later pre-prison Burzum releases are the natural blueprint for what to expect yet later down the evolutionary chain we find surreal atmospheric advancement within a select few bands which Atrium resembles more closely in timbre due to heavy keyboard use and easier pacing, such as Gehenna‘s ‘First Spell‘, Dimmu Borgir‘s ‘For All Tid‘, and Lunar Aurora‘s ‘Weltengänger‘. Though we needn’t go any further into the woods with this arbitrary placement in classic black metal’s pantheon of ideals, it is important to acknowledge that this is exactly what the artist intends to invoke in the name of music that is meant to explore both an emotional connection to this stylistic niche and his own mind palace.

Oneiric realms, a fancy way of suggesting the shadowy and indefinite places we create within dreams and perhaps shape with more definition when experiencing lucid dreaming states, is the main subject for what ‘Ancient Spells’ presents to the listener in addition to the intent of conveying sweeping, overwhelming emotion. The artist likewise suggests more turbulent artists such as Xasthur, early Dødheimsgard, and perhaps more fittingly Celestia (a la ‘Apparitia – Sumptuous Spectre’) as points of interest along the way and this more or less lines up with the rare peeks beneath the clouds we get from Atrium in terms of guitar work, rather than their warm and celestial outer layers of heavy keyboards and floaty, mid-paced work. This should not suggest that ‘Ancient Spells’ is an aggressive record, it isn’t. It might be worthwhile to consider that one of my favorite records is ‘…en their medh riki fara…’ as you approach my thoughts and understanding of this record since much of the simpler drum patterns and inspired breathy melodies here line up with that sort of sound while never landing as ‘folk’ metal of any sort along the way.

Fitting as music meant to convey the dream world experienced by the author, the main (and perhaps only interesting) point to be made for most black metal fans in terms of Atrium‘s debut is that it is an immersive and blissfully unnerving experience — An “easy” listen characterized by the resonance of the musician’s simple yet sweeping and roaring guitar arrangements and the chest-deep black water of the keyboard arrangements otherwise. It is technically a concept album focused upon idyllic visions within dreams, specifically centering around Magister L.‘s “old kingdom” seen within dreams and interpreted via gnostic wisdom and I suppose controversial authors mentioned in Luis Felipe Moyano and Miguel Serrano. The point of this concept intends to create a world for the listener, sure, but I’d felt the descriptions from the musician were more concerned with communicating the impact of visions within dreams upon himself and understanding them in terms of hyperborean mythos, idealistic escapism, or ‘transcendence’. The magick of the record is its constant state of suspended introspection that molds well within the mentality of early second wave high fantasy acts. In hindsight I think the result ends up being exactly what I wanted Stormkeep‘s debut EP to be late last year when it’d come out, something this overtly tuneful but also committed to a longer-form melodic arc.

Despite all of the blathering and comparing I’ve done thus far I have to admit this experience is one to be ‘felt’ and immersed within rather than analyzed. The vocal performances are spectacular with their spiraling echo, the layers of the sound design are gloriously set and despite the graphic design being the product of “modern” throwback plainness there is a brightly painted landscape to explore within the album itself. The ease of the listen, the sway of its brilliantly studied rhythmic forms and the always trotting along drum performances (or, programming) all ring as the right sort of sweet black metal escapism. A fine listening experience though the appeal will be limited to folks seeking 90’s black metal nostalgic revisionism. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (79/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Ancient Spells
LABEL(S):Signal Rex
RELEASE DATE:June 11th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Atmospheric Black Metal,
Symphonic Black Metal

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