AD OMEGA – Aphelic Ascent (2023)REVIEW

Eschatological dispersions upon an unfit, witlessly prolonged existence. — Viterbo, Italy-based black metal duo Ad Omega present a naturally occurring derangement of their greater progression as a thus far yearly release schedule yields a crowning moment with this sophomore full-length. ‘Aphelic Ascent‘ manages to disrupt and appease the listener’s senses within each piece, challenging the ear with ringing alien current in alternation with triumphal narrative rhythms. Though they eventually go over the deep end and indulge in the static of the void the effect is potent, a tangled and occasionally emergent black metal experience which still manages to stick in mind.

Ad Omega formed circa 2019 between guitarist/vocalist Noktvrnal (Intus Mortem, Lamashtu) and cohort Phersu (Shoreborn) who’d been quickly at work on two EP releases, the first (‘Luciferian Climax‘, 2019) representing the early shades of ‘dissonant’ avant-garde work found on Mayhem‘s ‘Grand Declaration of War‘ in a more fluid state and the second (‘Golden Age in Blasphemy‘, 2020) beginning to incorporate more patient atmospheric pieces with similarly strong Norwegian black metal guitar rhythms shoring up any sluggish points. While Ad Omega‘s work wasn’t as fluid, or, traditional in its grooves per earlier Deathspell Omega there is a hint of said influence to be found in the darker corners of their debut full-length (‘Tenebris Templum‘, 2021) alongside what I’d perceived as different atmospheric influences than previous. This might’ve been a side project of the line-up change which preceded that LP with drummer Vindur (Mörkvind) now collaborating with Noktvrnal. Though I am not sure if it just digital distortion or a certain choice of bass guitar tone but “The Awakening” on that record provides an example of the production values taking a step back from the clarity and polish of those first two EPs.

Their latest mLP ‘Anathema‘ (2022) resolved this, aiming for a colder and more abrupt set of rhythms which read to me as a ‘That Work Which Transforms God‘ influenced style of black metal, the post-industrial era chaotic turmoil without the wild left-handed techniques of that specific record. The precedence for how ‘Aphelic Ascent‘ would develop appears to have been well set and sorted by the duo between their third and fourth releases by my observation, finding fittingly prominent placement for dissonant riffcraft while still girding said jaggedness with frenetic brutality (destructive) and fluid, sensorial (instinctive) rhythms for an experience which still reads as animalistic, reactive rather than flatly apathetic. This accumulative capability aims to match philosophical exploration of the endtimes in motion, the final act as a process framed within eschatological studies consistent throughout several left hand pathways, be it the writings of Austin Osman Spare, the very black metal apropos Chaos Gnostic mindset of singularity, or Vedic descriptions of cosmological cycles of cessation and rebirth. The theme of the record ultimately matches well with the torrential yet disjointed aggression of the full listen as it directs it own current, and finds several points of vexing handicraft and simply memorable statement.

Album opener “Dysangelium” offers a strong and representative triumphal moment where it all comes together, a step into a refined and lofty station for Ad Omega beyond their previous work which feels entirely huge in its resonance, accomplished in its performance but still perturbed and unleashed as an underground black metal record should. They’ve only just summed up a glance beyond their previous work at that point, the opener merely cuts loose the bloodflow from the neck. Beyond those dismal opening moments this ‘Aphelic Ascent‘ pursues a cacophonic, horrendous clashing of swords and sensationalist aggression as the performers work toward the cyclone of misdirection that is “Solvet Cosmos in Favilla”. It ends up being one of the more outwardly chaotic bouts of the machine-mind grinding away in the midst of the full listen, a feat of confusion and disarray with purposeful strikes in all directions. This is without a doubt one of the more thrilling discoveries to make on the initial pass-thru by way of scrambling guitar runs and hypnotic atonal clangor moving in syncopated hysteria which all reads as sensical, purposed motion intending to convey scenes of decimation. It contrasts beautifully with the curious juxtapositions of “Profane Mystic Crown” which crosses triumphal, rising guitar leads with almost progressive black metal interruption and tangent.

The screaming hot early Norwegian guitar tone helps to keep those early moments from feeling scatterbrained, or any more vexing than they have to be. There is an anguished, latent ‘orthodox’ and beyond black metal ear applied to this part of the record and it makes for a grand, somewhat unpredictable entrance as Ad Omega balance classicism with their heady avant-black repertoire. They are merely breaking the skin at that first apex (“Solvet Cosmos in Favilla” + instrumental “Aphelion”) yet it eventually becomes the ultimate highlight of Side A or the first half of the album. The disharmonic collisions found on “Stellar Heritage” push the idea further, nearly losing touch with the piece in its mid-point ’til the guitarist reassures us there is a greater design to the clashes occurring. We also begin to hear the strong bass guitar performances buzzing underfoot, a feature of the duo’s sound on the first two EP releases that now very quietly appears on a few pieces.

“The Bitterest Heart” is another exceptional point of focus, particularly as they reach the ~1:50 minute mark and hit an ear-twitching bout of repetition, panned right which bristles the senses and defines the next couple of verses of the piece, eventually striking into one of the better leads on the album still very much on that same thread. A more fluid, melodic set of rhythms take hold of the piece around ~4:29 minutes in and change its tune entirely, punctuating the shift with a couple of chugs (much in the same way “The Awakening” did on the prior album) without losing the direction of it’s central motif. This balance of mutilated ‘dissonance’ and triumphal rhythms ultimately becomes the central characteristic of ‘Aphelic Ascent‘, this is especially effective in the second half of the album though I’d felt “Cosmic Demise” went for about three minutes too long (the second half is excellent, though) as some of the frayed guitar anti-progressions began to wear on the ear.

Though they’ve just passed the threshold of a novel stylistic combination in elegant practice Ad Omega stuck with me more for the experience in concert with its themes moreso than sub-genre co-morbidity. I hear and see considerable refinement without any sense of the artist losing their psychic connection with these urgent, erratic compositions which arrive with more than enough edge to satisfy the elite black metal fan looking for mutant variation and the potential for mood and mind altering experience. For my own taste the discord and dark ambient/industrial edges of the experience are nearly at the right ratio though again the record runs about five or so minutes too longer than its ideas sustain. A high recommendation.

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