I’ve been keeping one eye on North Carolina’s Aether Realm and their progress towards their debut album for a few months now, they having established themselves as one of the most competent and interesting of second-generation North American folk metal acts taking their cues from Scandinavia. In addition to their music, Aether Realm are noticeable for their goofy and self-deprecating sense of humour, never missing an opportunity on Facebook or Youtube to make jokes at their own expense or to compare themselves unfavourably to their influences in Ensiferum or Wintersun. Theirs is transparently music by folk metal fans for folk metal fans, their melodic sensibilities informed not by any direct cultural heritage but by reverence for their Finnish forebears. While it is by their own volition that Aether Realm remain in the shadow of their predecessors across the pond, they do themselves a disservice by putting themselves down so often, in jest or otherwise. Their self-released debut One Chosen by the Gods is neither goofy (in truth, it’s one of the more straight-laced examples of this style of music, exhibiting little of the light-hearted cheese that characterizes say, Children of Bodom or Finntroll) nor worthy of deprecation, a tight and accomplished effort by a talented young band which is refreshing in its lack of frilly excess or pretension.
The templates of the songs on One Chosen by the Gods will be familiar to anyone with even a cursory familiarity with Finnish melodeath; a speedy rhythm section with blastbeats aplenty underpinning dual-guitar harmonies playing infectious and palatable melodies, growled but somewhat intelligible vocals and occasional intrusion from acoustic guitars, choirs and synth orchestration for a measure of grandeur. Insofar as they can be directly compared to one band, Aether Realm most closely resemble Kalmah, though it varies from song to song; “Aether Realm,” for instance, with its upbeat, to-and-fro galloping riff and gang-shout chorus are a dead ringer for the early output of Ensiferum, while the charging, minor-key “Swampwitch” resembles a heavier version of Dark Tranquillity’s recent work (lyrics such as “our skeletons unzip themselves” have a touch of the morbid imagery Dark Tranquillity’s Mikael Stanne is famous for too).
So Aether Realm scarcely deviate at all from the well-worn genre conventions that were established when Slaughter of the Soulcame out in 1995. With that said, One Chosen by the Gods is no less worth your time for it, such is the competence and confidence with which it is executed. This is partly on account of their untamed, unapologetic exuberance; there’s a wild, bright-eyed vitality and unstoppable momentum to their songs. Drummer Tyler Gresham’s double-kick roars along at thrash metal tempos, reaching dizzying speeds together with Jack Doughetry and Heinrich Arnold’s guitars on “Ravensong” and “Winter’s Grasp” in particular. The vocals, shared between Arnold, Dougherty and bassist Vincent Jones, have a heroic, leonine quality, and the guitar solos shred up a storm, “Swampwitch” warranting special mention with a solo section which goes on for over a minute and bears comparison to Wintersun’s “Battle Against Time.”
Mostly though, it’s just plain old fashioned good songwriting that wins the day here. Aether Realm are practically an advert for accomplishment within strictly defined boundaries of genre; in the hands of capable craftsmen, genre is a tool, not a crutch, and on One Chosen by the Gods it is wielded with care and artistry. Each song presents a distinct and identifiable hook together with a veritable cornucopia of immediately infectious and engaging riffs, each placed precisely where they need to be in relation to each other. They move from driving rhythm sections to swooping leads to epic synth and tremolo-picked guitar lines and back again, each played with the utmost conviction, remaining tight and focused and never anything less than utterly entertaining. There are missteps, certainly, such as the ostentatious and gimmicky use of reversed drum recordings at the end of “Hourglass” (‘cause it’s like time flowing backwards, like an hourglass turned upside-down. It’s a metaphor, y’see!), or the noodly, prog-influenced solo section in the middle of the title track which temporarily sucks all the wind out of its sails, but these are few and far between.
Really, what else is there to say? There are some bands who are unexceptional in every regard save for quality, and Aether Realm are such. One Chosen by the Gods sets out to be a fun and engaging folk-inflected melodeath outing and it knocks it out of the park. Anyone who bears in them any love at all for this style would be a fool not to check it out. This goes as much for record labels as it does for listeners, incidentally
Written By: Andrew
01 Journey of Discovery
03 Aether Realm
05 One Chosen by the Gods
07 Winter’s Grasp
08 Odin Will Provide