Aosoth was noted for delivering a product of superior quality with their merciless previous album “III: Violence & Variations”, a scathing, lethal example of avant black metal where bleak dissonance and soul-crushing droning copulated copiously to paint unspeakable scenarios. The brand new “IV: An Arrow in Heart” had to live up to very high expectations by matching something that epitomized sheer lunacy and pure evil back in 2011. In short, how do you top a stunning achievement, something so solid and extreme that it must have entailed a grueling physical and mental work (not to mention a fair amount of drugs)?
The eye-catching cover by Benjamin Vierling, depicting (what I interpret as) a Joan of Arc being taken away by a particularly satisfied Grim Reaper, made me wonder whether the band might have slightly tweaked the astounding sound achieved on IV, perhaps in trying to capture the mood of an historical event that is engraved in the subconscious of the French. Or perhaps they had been reminded of something while touring with the likes of Watain and Shining, their Master demanding worship through a path that would be more accessible by the legions of black metal fans?
The title-track opens the album, immediately giving me one of the possible answers. “An Arrow in Heart” is a hybrid of what Aosoth was before and with III, in places taking me back to their earlier brand of demolishing but fairly classic black metal with the presence of overly familiar melodic chords. Here is an album that is described in the label info as “a natural improvement over the previous releases”, which is a skillful way to say that the album represents a blend of the two, so perhaps this is the outcome of a conscious effort in refining a style that found exalted beauty with the primal experimentation in III… by making it somewhat less demanding. The title-track is a long, swirling dirge that almost sounds melodic in comparison to my still scarred memories of III, even though it does lash out in the end.
Over all, this new album sums up nearly everything that Aosoth is and was, with the Portalesque death metal and doom influences, the gripping, monumental use of the low-end scales from the bass and the insane horror of the drumming, while the majestically huge dissonant guitars have often been tempered in favor of more classic tremolo-riffed melodies. The droning atmospheric flurries of bestial grimness, the sadistic discordant guitar sound and the insane touches are still there, and still exceptionally awesome when let loose in their purest primal form without the contamination of far too straightforward elements of classic black metal, which result paradoxically strident to my evil ear. Yet, in a studio environment Aosoth’s irking, contorted, ruthless, gloomy sound still remains intense and often devastating: in these 6 long tracks we have moments of powerful droning doom and blistering blasts juxtaposed to ominous sections ripe with meaty depth which show a lot of hard, painful work.
After several listens, especially when inevitably comparing IV to the outstanding III, it grows firmer in me the impression that after the achievement of finally finding an experimental style in which they can be masters, Aosoth decided to “evolve” in a slightly more accessible way, pleasing a larger portion of the black metal crowd. Even the use of spoken samples renders the plot less hermetic, but don’t get me wrong: the French are still masters in making ugliness, so effectively marked by the trademark low-end rasped vocals, utterly mesmerizing. The balanced production, satisfyingly half-way between filthy and harshly clean, does justice to this new offering, and in this context the extremely laborious drum and bass parts are a standout trait of theirs, and it still sets them apart from the rest of the great French contingent, who are at large dedicated to the expansion of the black metal horizons primarily through the exploration of an oblique guitar sound.
Ultimately, those who have not yet caught up with Aosoth will undoubtedly find this contemporary, intricate, French-style rendition of the classic black metal recipe irresistible, while those who fell for the sheer violence and evil of their previous release will perhaps feel a hint of regret. But the good news is that IV is an engaging album that can be played over and over: less experimental and relentlessly lethal, but still a hefty slab of French orthodox black metal it is. I wish all “disappointments” could be as good as this!
Label: Agonia Records
Avantgenre: French Black Metal
Official site: None
Review online since: 28.03.2013 / 15:30:28
01 – An Arrow In Heart