The Swedish black metal scene has always produced bands of a high caliber; bands that took the speed and nihilism of standard black metal and injected it with a strong sense of melody and grandiose arrangements. Dissection are considered by many to be the Godfathers of this scene, and rightly so, since their history can be traced all the way back to 1989. It goes without saying that their decidedly melodic version of black metal went on to influence, in one way or another, countless young bands, among them Astrophobos.
Formed in 2009 in Stockholm, Sweden, Astrophobos self-released their debut EP Arcane Secrets in 2010 to critical acclaim. Since then they have been hard at work to release their follow-up, this year’s Remnants Of Forgotten Horrors. The first thing that really leaps out at me about this release is how classic it sounds; this album could easily have been recorded by Dissection or Naglfar back in the 90s, which is arguably the most important and influential time period of black metal, and is DEFINITELY a compliment to such a young band as Astrophobos. All of the elements that you’d expect in a melodic black metal album are here; blast-beats galore, tremolo-picked guitars simultaneously rife with menace and sorrowful melodies, and one extremely pissed-off sounding vocalist that shares similar tonal qualities to Kristoffer Olivius of Naglfar.
There’s a sense of urgency to the riffs, a growing tension that is enhanced by the great lead guitar-work of Jonas Ehlin; his lead work creates some truly malevolent and dark melodies throughout each song. That’s not to discredit Martin Andersson’s 6-string contributions, because, really, you could almost describe Astrophobos’ sound as the black metal answer to the classic twin-guitar attack; the guitars twist and turn around each other as riff after riff assaults to the senses, making Remnants Of Forgotten Horrors a veritable riff-factory of an album. “Celestial Calamity”, the 8th and final song, is a perfect showcase for the guitar work on this album; there’s a little bit of everything in there, fast and melodic verses, slower but no less heavy choruses, and a super melancholic acoustic section that leads into an almost doom metal-like dirge riff that explodes into more furious black metal.
While there are tons of melody, don’t get the wrong idea; this is a heavy record, there are no choirs, no keyboards, and Mikael Broman’s vocals are absolutely dripping with venom with each and every shriek and growl. There’s a sense of conviction in the vocals, you get the feeling that Mikael absolutely means every word he’s screaming. This is refreshing, because I feel that there’s a lot of posturing that happens in the black metal scene, and it’s usually not even that well-hidden. Although the lyrics aren’t the typical anti-Christian type that you’ll see in most standard black metal bands, they aren’t exactly sunny either, opting rather to go the more misanthropic route found in Harvest or Pariah-era Naglfar.
The production is top-notch and modern-sounding, although without sterilizing the tone or sounding too polished, allowing for a lot of old-school tones in the guitar-work, particularly with the faster sections. The drums are loud enough in the mix without being overbearing since, really, this is more of a guitar-oriented album. The vocals are pretty high in the mix but, again, not so high that it’s a problem; you can understand what is being said in each song, which is always a big plus in my book.
There are a couple of things that keep this from being an absolute masterpiece, however. The bass guitar is almost non-existent in the mix; it’s buried under the torrential downpour of 6-string guitars, and if I hadn’t seen the credits, I’d assume there wasn’t actually any bass guitar work at all (which really isn’t all that unusual in this style anyway). Also, and despite the excellent song-writing, intense musicianship, and the feeling of nostalgia I get, I also feel like I’ve heard this album before. Even though I love Dissection and Naglfar, and I think Astrophobos plays a great sound that’s very similar to those two, I want to hear somebody build on that sound and take it into new directions, and I simply don’t get that with Remnants Of Forgotten Horrors.
Although there’s a lot to like here, and fans of the style will certainly enjoy this album, as I know I have, don’t look for a reinvention of the wheel either.