AENAON – Mnemosyne (2022)REVIEW

All will eventually resign to drink of Lethean water, a rite of all damned men who’d deserve nothing less, yet if their deeds prove glorious enough to inspire future narrative a heroic storyteller might liven action into entertainment meant to last within the full extent of the withering continuum. The mother of the Muses greets not great deeds with damning exclusivity but those with skillful yarning prowess, tongues afforded to they who’d set sight, mouth and hand upon portrayal. Odes outlive oaths, legends outlive warriors, and what is left timeless in the minds of those of us who’d cling to and pass on sentient humanity’s timeline know the repetitive weaving of the Fates hands no matter the medium. In seeking timelessness by way of sharpened tongues and well-trained hands Greek progressive black metal quartet Aenaon have made a name within grasp of greatness between three full-length albums yet it is the fourth which ultimately goes its own way, speaks its own mind(s) and takes hold of ear by way of admirable personification. ‘Mnemosyne‘ finally completes the long self-edifying walk from the crimson curtain’d and spot-lit opera hall into the blackest lounge, a former opium den still reeking of several decades aged and shaken-loose thoughts emerging as surrealistic, stargazing highs. It is the sort of prog-black record the dreaming-loud mind hungers for when considering the potential differentiation available to the classic progressive rock experience (by way of moderne progressive metal), a walk through a set of spectacularly complete thoughts expressing timely emotional extravagance. It is a record in appreciable avoidance of the usual shaved-back vignettes and inklings in passing we find common within the rampant pleather-skinned post-modernism of the sub-genre today.

Borne from the cessation of Thessaly-bound trio Cychaeon circa 2006 and lead by the philosophically inclined vocalist of soon disbanded black/death group Black Winter the origins of Aenaon aren’t as important as where they’d ended up by 2011. It’d be fair to say that their first EP (‘Phenomenon‘, 2009) was at least partially in debt to Norse black metal abstraction, not as khaos-dramatist as Borknagar, nearly as future-fraught as Dødheimsgard but perhaps not yet contemporary with nearby groups like Hail Spirit Noir until their well-loved debut full-length (‘Cendres et Sang‘, 2011) released soon after. At that point the mark of guitarist/engineer Achilles C. (Varathron, Katabasis) was immediately defining, easily noticed if you’d been as big a fan of ‘Stygian Forces of Scorn‘ as I am and you’d likewise noted that the keyboards, pianos and such were a bit more in the periphery at that point. Their follow-up (‘Extance‘, 2014) featured more of everything, certainly stepping up to a much more active level of layered and excitable compositions which leaned into their use of both keyboards/pianos and (to some degree) saxophone, landing a fairly common but off-the-mark comparisons to Sigh at the time. It was a haunting, maximal experience and the first record in their discography to begin building atop the foundations of Scandinavian progressive black metal that’d influenced them. ‘Hypnosophy‘ (2016) officially added saxophonist Orestis Zyrinis to the line-up, though he’d performed on the previous record his role became more prominent the second time around. While we can find some great precedence, and more than a few stellarly moments in the past of course the parameters for progressive metal are always shifting and, with regard to ‘Mnemosyne‘, these folks have had six years to mull over the possibilities of the ego-void while also becoming six years more capable of their own sound, their own standard.

Ephemera into ‘ready full lungs. — Though the average well-read populist considers black metal inherently conceptual and the very existence of the suffixed progressive tag/trope in music hinges upon the bizarre, idiotic notion that personality is uniformly traditional in all other spaces we can yet readily recognize what these folks do lands beside the well-groomed traditions of black metal musicianship aging beyond the teenaged high-fantasy ex-death metallic state of the early 90’s, partaking in the construction of progressive music forms as the skill level increases in parity. Their work is conceptual-emotional, in the sense that an admixture of personal prose and rejection of egotism and materialism remain inherent to Aenaon‘s voice, not exactly preaching five aggregates of clinging but occasionally concerned with rejecting the unnecessary filth of the human experience and embracing some manner of nothingness. Each album has set a different tone in this regard, ‘Mnemosyne‘ is the most broadly reaching, complex thread thus far.

When it comes time to dig through ‘Mnemosyne‘ for standout songs the full listen is nearly weighed down by too many good, or, novel ideas and about three transitional pieces upon cursory listen yet it could’ve been far more obtuse than ~49 minutes, still managing a substantial and just excessive enough listen. From the moment I’d heard album opener “Psyche” (September 7th) ’til now it has been stuck in my head but, for a couple different reasons. The first being the hypnotic tarantella provided by the main riff, a sort of signature move of the guitarist, and the second being the reprise of the main vocal harmony which resurrects beyond ~4:39 minutes into the song. The song arrangement is beyond what we’d typically hear from black metal adjacent progressive metal, which is often mired in service to dissonance or “angularity” rather than the sort of psychedelic/progressive rock fueled ebb which we only otherwise find in records like ‘Eden in Reverse‘. The next few songs notably incorporate Zyrinis‘ talents more often and with more success than on previous efforts, allowing his work to truly flavor the jazz-noir atmosphere of the record without actually leaning into any typical jazz-metal fusion tropes along the way. “Synastry of Heartbeats” is the big-deal single from the record and one of the longer pieces on the album, making great use of unique keyboard tones, grinding saxophone underneath certain verses, and a big early King Crimson-esque riff growling throughout the first half. It wasn’t the most memorable piece overall after several listens but it represents a strong point of implied fixation in the first half either way.

Stepping from the kinda Vintersorg-esque vocal melodies/harmonization of “Trauma Cultura” into the elektro-jazz kick of “Clark Nova” kicks off my favorite section of the record, reaching peak interest with another single, “Hysteria“. Though it is one of the more black metal or, more straightforward riff pushing song on the album to start the simultaneous reveal of two keyboard/synth lines beyond the first couple of verses remains an exciting moment within the context of the full listen. Yes, I am a chimp who claps hands at any sort of eerie sci-fi synth noise incorporated into heavy metal riffing but these accentuate the otherwise swinging black n’ rolling groove which develops in the second half of the song in an unforgettable way. The grand finale and the slink back into the carnival of shadows follows, moments which are better discovered by the reader than described beyond accentuating ideas posited elsewhere on Side B. The full listen was easily repeated, dynamic in reveal, and only occasionally indulgent in creating its eerie atmosphere in between anthemic ruptures. At no point did I feel like I’d hit upon filler per se, though I think “Synastry of Heartbeats” could’ve been tamed down to a couple minutes less.

Though I was familiar with Aenaon prior and went into ‘Mnemosyne‘ recognizing their general voice it must be said that both vocalist Astrous and guitarist/producer Achilles C. have outdone themselves here, breaking through here with clever songwriting, an intensely surreal yet comfortable sense of space, and the general sense that any unpredictable turn taken serves the song rather than stymies the senses. An inspired work which I’ve not been able to step away from after a solid month of listening otherwise. It is an approachable record with a wealth enough of guitar interest baked-in but, of course gauge your general interest in eerie black metal and progressive metal on your own terms beforehand. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (85/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Agonia Records
RELEASE DATE:October 7th, 2022

Help Support Grizzly Butts’ goals with a donation:

Please consider donating directly to site costs and project funding using PayPal.