C.S. Lewis was a British scholar and author. He was born in Belfast and died on the day of John F. Kennedy’s assassination at the age of 64. He was a prolific essayist whose most profound works dealt with his Christian faith, though he is probably known most widely as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia.
He was an immensely thoughtful, extremely compassionate, constantly questioning man, and a writer of beautiful prose — and pretty decent fiction, too. If I were still a Christian, he would be one of my role models. But that’s probably because I think the world would be a gentler place if there were more doubt and less certitude in matters of religious faith. That way, we could get more of our fill of brutality from metal and less from the daily news. But what the fuck do I know? I’m just a part-time metal blogger and full-time half-wit.
In addition to The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis also wrote a sci-fi/fantasy trilogy consisting of books called Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. In part, they tell the story of human encounters with a race of immortal extraterrestrials called the eldila.
One of those aliens rebelled and was imprisoned on Earth (sound familiar?), which cut it off from the eldila on the other planets in our system. And for that reason, in the language of the eldila, Earth was called Thulcandra — the Silent Planet.
There’ s a point to this laborious background story, and the point concerns a German metal band also called Thulcandra, whose members are also involved with Obscura, Helfahrt, and Dark Fortress. Despite the C.S. Lewis connection,Thulcandra is not a Christian band — in fact, they play the kind of melodic black- and death-metal that calls forth the ghost of Dissection. Their story is an unusual one, and their debut album — Fallen Angel’s Dominion — is fucking awesome. (more after the jump, including a track from that album . . .)
Somewhere around the last glacial epoch, I read C.S. Lewis’s “space trilogy.” The writing isn’t up to the best of Lewis’s prose, but I still got way into it. So imagine my excitement at seeing a new release from a band called Thulcandra. And then imagine my puzzlement when I read the lyrics and heard the music.
I’m eventually going to get to the music, I swear. But not just yet. First, a little history about the band. The origin stories of all metal bands are unique, but this one is more unusual than most.
Thulcandra was founded in 2003 by two guitarists named Jürgen Zintz and Steffen Kummerer. The band recorded a never-released demo, and then in early 2005 Zintz committed suicide by throwing himself under a train. And there began an extended hiatus in the story of Thulcandra.
As the years passed, Kummerer had a stint in Helfahrt and full-time involvement in Obscura, which has released some of the best modern death metal you’ll find anywhere (if you haven’t yet heard 2009’s Cosmogenesis, now would be a good time to discover what I’m talking about).
In 2008, after moving to a different city in Germany, Kummerer began working again not only on the older Thulcandra demo songs but also new material modeled on the style of Dissection and other blackened death-metal bands from the Swedish scene in the early 90s. (Ironically, Jon Nödtveidt of Dissection also committed suicide not long after Jürgen Zintz.)
The “evil twins” Tobias and Sebastian Ludwig (who also play bass and guitar in Helfahrt) joined the fold, and Thulcandra was reborn. The band recruited Seraph from Dark Fortress as a session drummer and recorded the debut album that was released in that tidal wave of new metal unleashed on June 8 (see our post about that signal date here) — 7 years after Thulcandra first came into existence.
To complete the homage that he intended the album to represent, Kummerer recruited Kristian Wåhlin (a.k.a. Necrolord) to create the album art — the same dude who contributed his artwork to classic releases from Dissection, Emperor, and Dark Funeral, as well as other bands such as At the Gates and Sacramentum.
And that brings me to the music (for the one or two of you who haven’t yet lost patience after all the preceding verbosity). Without intending any disrespect to Seraph or Tobias Ludwig, who are both excellent, what makes Fallen Angel’s Dominion shine like burnished steel are the guitar instrumentals of Steffen Kumerer and Sebastian Ludwig, and Kummerer’s vocals — that, and the fine sense of melody that emerges from the songwriting.
If you know the music of Obscura and Helfahrt, then you know Kummerer and S. Ludwig have an impressive array of guitar licks in their repertory, and they use them to dazzling effect on this album:
Melodic death-metal riffs switching off like tag-team wrestlers with tremolo-picked rhythm and lead instrumentals; mournful minor-key chords trading places with clean, arcing arpeggios; counterpoint melodies that converge into dual-guitar harmonies; acoustic intros and interludes; and bruising, chainsaw chugging that triggers the windmill reflex.
In addition to his accomplished guitar playing, Kummerer adds his cathartic, mid-range snarl to the mix. It’s never less than invigorating, and often soars into a passionate, razor-edged howl that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. And Kummerer articulates the lyrics so they are intelligible, despite the scarring delivery.
But all of the accomplishment in the instrumentation and vocal delivery would count for little if the songs themselves were uninteresting. Fortunately, the songwriting matches the skill of the musicians. Each song (including two instrumental tracks) has its own distinct identity. You hear them once, and the melodies and rhythms leap back into your head as they begin a second time.
Is Thulcandra breaking new ground with Fallen Angel’s Dominion? Kummerer is the first to admit that wasn’t the band’s objective. Instead, it was to create music in the style of bands like Dissection, Unanimated, and Sacramentum at their ground-breaking best.
In fact, the album’s last entry is a cover of the title track from Dissection’s debut album The Somberlain. The original is a brilliant song, an amalgamation of icy viciousness and melodic beauty. But Thulcandra’s cover is both utterly faithful to the original and an improvement. The somewhat muddy production of Dissection’s rendition has been significantly improved, and Thulcandra have subtly altered and sharpened the riffs.
How much of a negative is it that Thulcandra have created new songs in a very recognizable old style? For us, it’s not a negative at all — first, because that stylistic fusion of melodic death metal and black metal stylings is just so appealing, and second, because the songs on this album are flat-out, ass-kickingly awesome to hear. Fallen Angel’s Dominion is a brilliantly executed alloy of melodic black- and death-metal, and it’s rapidly become one of our favorite albums of the year.
And that brings us full circle to C.S. Lewis. In his space trilogy, Thulcandra was indeed the fallen angel’s dominion, and that is the dark place of fire and ice where this band named Thulcandra dwells, their music defiantly roaring out of the silent planet. Here’s a track for you to sample:
You can stream more songs from the album at Thulcandra’s MySpace page — or you could do the smart thing and just go snag your own copy without delay.
P.S. The source material for much of the band’s story and for what we’ve said about the album’s concept comes from an interesting interview of Steffen Kummerer at this location.