THOS ÆLLA – Sempiternal Mobocracies (2022)REVIEW

A quasi-progressive metal undertaking which delivers the grand outline of southern United States-based musician Derrik Goulding‘s taste in the expressive, lead guitar driven side of heavy metal melodicism, the skeleton which sustains Thos Ælla today leans heavily upon the oft neoclassic flailing of turn-of-the-millennium black metal, ‘epic’ extreme thrash metal, melodic death metal and an admixture of traditional heavy/power metal. Very much a do-it-yourself solo undertaking for the artist, whom is best known for his second guitar spot in Father Befouled and (more recently) featured in a guest spot doing leads for Apocryphetic‘s debut, there is something to be said for a fellowe attempting to fully run before they can walk in terms of rendering wholly ambitious ideas which many have failed at before with damning precedence. ‘Sempiternal Mobocracies‘ succeeds in reframing the artist’s still-developing idyll of melodic black/death metal unto more effectively stylized status, expands his oeuvre into a more clearly mapped and impressively dramatized concoction of various inspiration.

Though I am usually one to suggest a deep dive into any artist’s past to best understand their greater trip towards today, this second effort is far-removed enough from previous work that it may very well be best served without context or any major expectation set. Well, for the sake of posterity… Officially arisen in 2020 but at work for some undisclosed amount of time, Thos Ælla‘s grand entrance made for an ‘just alright’ birth, producing what I would consider a demo-level debut (‘Abegnation Psalms‘, 2021) to start. Helped along by an easily read and fairly repetitive melodic death metal style it’d yet been hard to take a serious ear to it due to a handful of glaringly out of place heavy rock solos and the use of (probably) programmed drums. All that’d been clear from that first set of songs was the ambition of the rhythm guitar work, a certain Swedish melodic black/death metal influence which has been well improved upon for this more sophisticated follow-up. ‘Sempiternal Mobocracies‘ can be feasibly marked as an inventive record by way of the linear and non-linear connections it bridges between largely traditional and similarly melodic metal forms. While generational connections between melodic black/death metal and speed/heavy metal should be obvious to anyone ‘ready digging this deep into extreme metal at this point, it is important to keep in mind most anyone Goulding‘s age likely sources melody from a different point of extreme and traditional heavy metal evolution than bands like Dissection had back in the early 90’s; In this case the suggestion of everything from Cradle of Filth to ‘The Locust Years‘-era Hammers of Misfortune and 2000’s Absu provide clearer indications of simply stated melodic ideas which are served in purposeful elaboration here, most often to the point of avoiding any sort of ‘catchy’ remnant but still providing a ride-along. In more direct terms we are getting a few layers of seemingly mismatched major and minor key ideas here but, with the implied intent of doing something a bit different.

About a third of the dual rhythm guitar phrasing found on this album lands as if a truncation of the run-on, gloriously overwrought ‘Slaughtersun (Crown of the Triarchy)‘ or nearby, though this type of guitar work traditionally reaches a far more sophisticated high in the hands of a comparatively focused ideal (see: Mefitis), here it acts to space out the more densely stated, anxietous tendencies of Goulding‘s arrangements, allowing for a certain post-‘Slaughter of the Soul‘/’Storm of the Light’s Bane‘ scent of blackened melodic death metal (see: “Bloodlust Inamorata”, “By the Night’s Embrace Eternal”) to interrupt and eventually infuse with the oddly cheery power-black metal chiseled portions of ‘Sempiternal Mobocracies‘. At its best and most actively riffed moments this lands a bit like a more playfully stated version of early Blood Storm or Epoch of Unlight thanks to prevalent shred-metallic melodic ideas, even if they’ve very little ‘evil heavy metal’ intent to offer much of the time. This doesn’t always work into a fury so much as a melodramatic mush wherein melodic ideas either feel overworked into progressive metal accoutrement overload or are unsatisfyingly incomplete in their greater arcing. Lead guitar statements tend to read flatly in their whirling-up, all punchline without any purposeful setup to resolve with any satisfactory gestalt. “In Vein, The Oceans Black” and “Backwards Afterbirth Flows Unto Dreaming Temples” serve as the main offenders as we near the middle of the full listen, frequently whittling away at various tangent without landing a riff worth un-holstering, a sensation which becomes somewhat prevalent throughout the full listen. “This Firestorm of Retribution” in particular reinforces a sort of ‘shoulders up, time to riff’ movement which tends to go nowhere fast, its power metallic fanfare and a ‘Rust In Peace‘ level verse riff (~1:28 minutes) revs all engines largely for the sake of reprising its opening leads.

Needless to say I like this idea and the ambition behind what Thos Ælla are doing on this second record more than I do the actual result. It is an impressive step up beyond last year’s release in most every respect wherein the mélange of styles in mind only becomes more lucid and sensical yet I couldn’t find myself getting behind the songcraft, the dueling tonality of the woven sub-genre crossover it represents, after numerous listens. Even if the riffs aren’t necessarily meant to be the major spectacle I’d not found the rhythms insightful enough nor the lead guitar work consistent enough to justify the greater experiment at hand ‘working’. With that said I definitely want to hear more and see where this goes, the artist has the right eye for their aesthetic and I don’t doubt the render and performances will continue intensify over time as this record shows exponential gains in ear-grabbing value beyond their last. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (75/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Sempiternal Mobocracies
LABEL(S):I, Voidhanger Records
RELEASE DATE:April 22nd, 2022

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