TOWARDS ATLANTIS LIGHTS – When the Ashes Devoured the Sun (2021)REVIEW

From arcane rituals divulged via frescoes plastered with the double-headed axe of Knossos to epic poetry describing the descendants of the first man settling on the plains of Thessaly (or thereabouts) we derive strong hints and feasible enough explanation for the inexplicable exodus, or extinction, of antiquated civilizations and their still standing myth. History is either nonexistent or blurred by the bias or ignorance of ancient historian, a phenomenon less than enhanced by a hundred generations of translation with its own appropriated context; Endless speculation by once modern scholars dries with their bones as unquestioning youths parse through dingy, unimaginative digital curriculum cleansed into neat museum-worthy placard text. Though a renaissance in revolt of sleeping historicity could resurrect a hundred wilted books on the subject of lost civilizations, we can instead assume warfare, assimilation, unsustainability or natural disaster easily enough as causation — The vital question is not “Why?” but “What…” culture was erased, and thankfully many of these still-crumbling worlds cured of human infestation are preserved in art and architecture compelling enough to beguile and transfix the attention of those who wonder and muse the unknown. The slow erosion of time and the allowance of the imagination to run wild within the void of knowledge is a potent biome for an intelligent and expressive group of extreme doom metal artists such as Towards Atlantis Lights, and they are yet thriving here on their second full-length album ‘When the Ashes Devoured the Sun‘. Expanding upon the lost knowledge of man with their own “arcane doom metal” expressions, the quartet focus intently upon two mysteries of ancient Greece as they dramatize the collapse of the Minoans of Crete and eulogize the Pelasgian attainments. In doing so they deepen their own harmonization into greater specialized form, modulating towards the extreme and greeting the listener with a vast fresco of their own design to behold.

Conceived outside of time but given name and realized by Ivan Zara of Void of Silence in 2017 along with Kostas Panagiotou (Pantheist), Riccardo Veronese (Aphonic Threnody) and drummer Ivano Olivieri the first pulses of life from Towards Atlantis Lights were rightfully presented as a sort of underground funeral doom metal supergroup of sorts but, I would rather frame it as a great idea that became an impressive collaboration. When I say “funeral doom metal” let me qualify that with a pace that is still entirely readable as writ in the script of traditional doom metal riffs, albeit ‘epic’ and sprawling in nature on this release their cadence is yet entirely readable for the sake of a human connection to the movements within. If there is one thing I remember about this band beyond my review for their 2018 debut ‘Dust of Aeons‘ it was the enormous half-hour album opener “The Bunkur of Life” and how it’d sort of sapped me for strength when engaging with the full listen, though I’d eventually warmed to the experience considerably. The major notes on their sound still persist here with a few previously suggested tweaks to the larger listening experience. Towards Atlantis Lights are still death/doom metal heavy when the riffs are rolling above a shambling pace (see: Mournful Congregation), lead guitars are still an important part of the greater emotional narrative (a “celestial chorale”, if you will) and the timbre of the music is contemplative but primarily tragedian as they extend most poetic statements in downward-resonant movements.

Though what we hear today on ‘When the Ashes Devoured the Sun’ appears as effortless advancement kicked-off immediately beyond the cut teeth of the equally lofty ‘Dust of Aeons’ it certainly wasn’t rushed along without any deeper thought applied as we get the requisite “lower lows, higher highs” sort of treatment expected from a sophomore release but also a much more present mix which gives plenty of spacious, weightless resonance for the rhythm section to echo within. This is perhaps necessary balance for the stronger feature of both Panagiotou‘s impressive range of vocal inflection and the sort of trade-off between his keyboard work and Zara‘s guitar work, each of which offer extensive feature on this record. Not only is the keyboard work expertly whirled between atmospheric accentuation and emergent, surrealistic showcase but by the end of the album pieces like “Outro – Pelasgian Tales” have built a harmonized language with the otherworldly leads from Zara. In fact, I should’ve lead with this note but the lead guitar tone here is implanted with a soaring synth-like effect that is captivating to the point of being impossible to ignore; The frequency of these leads blazing through each song rises as we proceed, starting with “The Minoan Tragedy” providing just a few directive spires at key moments, to “The Mad Prophetess” fully featuring this guitar tone in gloriously empyreal loft. That said, there are plenty of sections that use other tonality, such as the avant-death metal attuned “The Bull and the Serpent”, so that this unreal celestial director does not entirely dominate the album. It nonetheless enhances the extremophilic nature of Towards Atlantis Lights‘ sound and adds to the greater dramatic voice of the album.

The pacing issues of the previous album are corrected here, noting that this quartet are at their best splitting their efforts between 6-8 minute epic/atmospheric doom metal pieces and 10-15 minute funeral death/doom metal pieces and the lines blurred between each format. It is a wonder that they’ve been able to arrange this record in a way that still reads as funeral doom in style but never loses its density of action, songwriting elements never simply sit alone and resound without clear purpose and as a result there is never a dull or out of place moment on ‘When the Ashes Devoured the Sun’. This is important because we’ve got a theme running throughout and Towards Atlantis Lights appear eager to tell a story for the ages, of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in human history and how it’d devastated the Minoan civilization of Crete circa ~1600 BCE; You’ll note the cover art depicts the chora aflame with the statue of Minos atop the bull signaling its specificity. The lyrics for “The Minoan Tragedy” narrates at least some of the piece from the perspective of those erased by cataclysm, communicating some question of how they will be remembered and this sentiment appears again for my personal favorite song “To the Forgotten Tribes”, with its extended ethereal introduction and I’d say heaviest composition overall. Though I didn’t have the lyrics to pick through for extra context, the tone of each piece and that which is spoken clear as day match well enough that we can infer some intent to capture moments of devastation or, scenes of collapse. In this sense we can view the holistic concept of Towards Atlantis Lights paying off in its profundity, or, the music itself matching beautifully with the subject matter for an affecting depiction.

Though I’ve never found highlights or “riffs” worthwhile when conveying the best pockets of funeral doom records I’m especially not prone to pick too many favorite pieces here simply because each song is self-important, more than a vignette but a canvas with its own detailed setting that is awkwardly categorized outside of the whole experience. The trip from “To the Forgotten Tribes” through “Outro – Pelasgian Tales” is one of clear advance, I’m not sure if these songs were written in succession but the mood itself expands and darkens at once as we reach our tragic quietus, a trait shared with the previous record but wrought with greater tension. ‘When the Ashes Devoured the Sun’ is the sort of record I’d had to leave on loop for a couple of hours to begin to appreciate, the level of intricacy here won’t stifle the analytic mind of interest but letting the shoulders drop and the eyes wander does allow Towards Atlantis Lights‘ spectacular motion to take hold. I would classify the experience as somewhat challenging in terms of it being a linear theatrical expression rather than a doom metal album with big riffs and catchy songwriting; There -is- a bit of that in hand but the major enrichment of the full listen lies in finding and riding its wave, pooling in retrospect when they insist, and thrilling along with the soar of the lead guitars. I’ve found it to be a strong improvement upon their previous album and one of the better conceived and ‘complete’ feeling funeral doom metal adjacent albums of the year thus far. A high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (79/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:When the Ashes Devoured the Sun
LABEL(S):Melancholic Realm Productions
RELEASE DATE:July 16th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Funeral Doom Metal,
Atmospheric Death/Doom Metal

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