Way back in 2013, Lucifer, Leviathan, Logos, the debut album of Norwegian quintet Magister Templi, crept up behind me and issued me one of the better surprises I received that year. What stood out about it was its self-assurance and confidence, the band demonstrating a fully consistent and actualised musical identity uniquely their own right from the outset. Although couched comfortably within the tradition of classic 80’s occult-themed metal (almost exactly splitting the difference between Candlemass and Mercyful Fate), the band alchemised these influences into something fresh and invigorating, riffs and vocal lines veering off in peculiar and unpredictable directions. The band excel at infusing old generic forms with ingenuity and spontaneity.
Their 2015 follow-up Into Duat, then, is an act of consolidation and refinement, Magister Templi reinforcing their distinctive characteristics with a sophomore album that feels every inch like an iterative follow-on from Lucifer, Leviathan, Logos. Lovecraftian and Thelemic subject matter has been swapped out for Ancient Egyptian mythology in the lyrics, but the atmosphere remains the same heady mixture of lurid, smoky occultism and Hammer Horror creepy-fun (the scenery-chewing shriek that opens “Osiris”—Sarcofagus… filling with molten lead!”—is a near-perfect encapsulation of the kind of haunted house theatrics the album revels in). One imagines Magister Templi would be the heavy metal act of choice for the early 20th century aristocratic gentleman who collects volumes of esoteric literature and dabbles in the occasional ritual sacrifice at the weekends.
Also returning are the riffs that lurch, wrench, twist and plunge their ways through songs that unspool in all directions, swinging sharply from grim, coiled foreboding to eruptions of downtuned violence and back again without warning. Although their aesthetics are grounded firmly in classic heavy and doom metal, Magister Templi’s songwriting feels almost like it could be influenced by early death metal, the cryptic patterns that songs like “Creation” and “Anubis” move through feeling like they could almost belong in an Entombed or Morbid Angel record from the early 90s. It would account for how an album which otherwise stands outside the remit of extreme metal could sound, at times, disarmingly tumultuous. Into Duat possesses a dark energy – some of the faster passages like the bridge of “Horus the Avenger” are surprising for just how heavy they are, all the more so for the suddenness with which they emerge.
The charismatic, histrionic vocal delivery of frontman Abraxas d’Ruckus is also crucial to Magister Templi’s sound, his weird and off-kilter intonations and emphases the ideal complement to his bandmates’ similarly untamed and effusive antics. (This may be one of the few instances where a metal singer having English as a second language may actually be directly to the benefit of his performance—I find it difficult to imagine that more ostentatious moments like the imperious spoken monologue at the climax of “Sobek” would have the same effect with, say, a London accent). His warm, full baritone negotiates spikes in pitch in ways that give his performance a wiry, nervous intensity (the sudden two-octave jump on the last syllable of “Horus… the aven-GER!” is a particularly startling example). Abraxas’ voice combines with the fleshy, bottom-heavy production and the roiling, tumbling rhythm section to create an impressive—one might even say “magisterial”—sensation of mass. Into Duat is a welcome contrast to the arid sound of many modern metal recordings.
Into Duat is, perhaps, a flatter album than Lucifer, Leviathan, Logos, a record characterised by higher highs and lower lows. There’s no song here as great as the astonishing “Master of the Temple,” nor any individual moment as perfect as the opening to “Tiphareth.” On the other hand, the debut album’s moments of faltering or second-guessing in its songwriting have been rectified—Into Duat is altogether better at preserving forward momentum and kinetic energy across the duration of its tracks. So I’d call it roughly a tie, and proceed with the same sentiment towards Magister Templi I had in 2013—their signature take on occultic heavy/doom metal is as intriguing and beguiling as ever, and warrants further exploration and development. I’d be willing to wager that it will be with their third album that Magister Templi build on everything they’ve already accomplished and make the leap to the status of genuine greatness.
02) Lord of the Morning
04) Horus the Avenger
07) Slaying Apophis