Most music critics will tell you that they are supposed to be reserved in their treatment of new releases. To hell with that—I’ll gladly relinquish the title of ‘critic’ to stand here and proclaim Macabre Omen‘s Gods of War—At War the greatest black metal album of the year so far in 2015, and one that will probably not be surpassed at least until this year is complete.
You’d be forgiven for being unaware of Macabre Omen until this moment. The band—consisting primarily of Alexandros Antoniou, also known as The One—began in 1994 upon the Greek island of Rhodes. The One later relocated to London, England and then gave us Macabre Omen’s debut album The Ancient Returns in 2005. Other than a selection of demos and split releases, the world was to be content with this until this latest offering. Gods of War—At War is stylistically and thematically in line with everything the band has done, but is also an unmistakable step up in terms of execution.
The album opens with the fateful words ‘I know…’, as though The One is telling listeners to expect something spectacular. Even though that’s certainly not the intention, when the opening chant to ‘I See the Sea’ arises in all its masculinity, then gets pushed aside by an opening riff of pure heroism, any man (or tradition-minded woman) will not dispute this claim of greatness. The following track, ‘Gods of War’, channels the spirit of Quorthon (I’m not going to dwell on the obvious Bathory influence, for it would discredit Macabre Omen’s rightfully-won merits). The deliberate mixture of vocal styles, accompanied by guitar riffs which fluctuate between pride-inducing melody and ominous moods—with occasional forays into traditional acoustic territory—create a truly dynamic experience rarely found in post-90s black metal. Throughout the album, choral voices rise above the instrumentation to sing the glory of Hellas—confirmation that this is not black metal that speaks of nihilism and death, but of greatness in life; truly Pagan in spirit.
‘From Son to Father’ offers the first and most potently emotional leg of this album’s journey; a slower, more melodic hymn to fatherhood, death, and remembrance:
‘You were a comrade to my mother, a father to his son. And from son to father, you were the only one.’
How many black metal bands have the confidence to be this emotive while preserving the necessary authority to sing about war and pride? Elsewhere the lyrics deal with mythology, history, and death, but no matter what the focus there is a meaningfulness and honesty present. One gets the impression that at no point have words been chosen to merely fit the conventions of the genre, but to express concepts held dear to their author.
It would only be right to mention the others involved in Gods of War—At War‘s creation. Drums are handled, in a matter that could not be more fitting, by Thomas Vallely—known for his work in other UK-based bands including Lychgate and Orpheus. Although not a Hellene himself he was clearly the man for the job. Likewise, Greg Chandler at Priory Recording Studios has given these compositions a suitably honest and vibrant treatment.
Ván Records have again proven their calibre by picking up this release and presenting it in a beautiful digipak CD format with gold-leaf adornments (as well as on 12″ LP). I’m not sure how much work the label will have to do if the initial buzz surrounding this album perseveres. Lovers of Graveland and Bathory need not waste another moment pondering whether to add this to their collection. It may well even appeal to fans of more traditional metal such as fellow Greeks Battleroar. Gods of War—At War is not artistically revolutionary, but by its very own intention evokes the finest features of Pagan black metal to a god-like standard.
01) See, the Sea!
02) Gods of War—At War
03) Man of 300 Voices
04) Hellenes Do Not Fight like Heroes, Heroes Fight like Hellenes
05) From Son to Father
06) Rhodian Pride, Lindian Might
07) Alexandros—Ode A’
08) Alexandros—Ode B’