Aquilus is the one-man project of an Australian wizard named Horace “Waldorf” Rosenqvist, and Griseus is his one-hour, twenty-minute masterpiece — at least until he creates the next masterpiece.
I first learned of this album in April through a message from an NCS reader who calls himself FistForFun. And then I got another message from him in May, and another in August, and another in October. Though they grew increasingly strident, the content was essentially the same: Pull your head out of your ass and listen to this damn record! (I kid, FistForFun was more polite than that.)
It only took me seven months, but I’ve finally done that. There is a reason why the slow loris is the official mascot of NCS. Having now heard Griseus, I can understand FistForFun’s enthusiasm.
I think it’s fair to say that Griseus is unlike anything else we’ve ever reviewed at this site. It’s also unlike anything else I can remember ever hearing that could conceivably be classified as metal. The metal elements are scattered in the music — harsh vocals that are sometimes of the shrieking black metal variety and sometimes deep and howling; big booming riffs, heavy chugs, jabbing distorted chords; bouts of double-bass percussion; even a shrill electric guitar solo (in “Latent Thistle”).
But these elements appear infrequently, and even the harsh vocals are balanced by clean vocal harmonies and the sounds of choirs. Yet the vocals themselves are really only accents in what is primarily an instrumental album of neoclassical, folk-influenced orchestral music — one that’s endlessly interesting.
Acoustic guitar and piano play more prominent roles on Griseus than the electrified instruments, with both taking the lead at some point (or at many points) in every song. And almost every song features dramatic orchestral elements, including the rapturous sound of massed strings and horns. Beautiful ambient synthesizer passages further enhance the rich textures of the music.
The songs are generally long, with the closing track “Night Bell” clocking in at more than 17 minutes. Yet Aquilus is a master of pacing and mood change, and the music consequently never loses interest.
At times, the music carries a sweeping grandeur of the kind reminiscent of the cinematic sound track to a big-budget period piece. At other times, it’s soft, sublime, and dreamlike. And small, well-timed touches further enhance the variety in what’s happening on the album — e.g., what sounds like the picking of a mandolin in the whirling dance of “Latent Thistle”, a Viking chorus in “In Lands of Ashes”, the notes of a flute in “Smokefall”.
Griseus is one of those rare orchestral metal albums that’s neither bombastic nor cheesy. It’s alternately romantic, dark, epic, and down-home, without ever going “over the top”. The fact that it’s the work of a single person makes it even more remarkable.
In a nutshell, Griseus is one of the most interesting, most musically accomplished, and most thoroughly engrossing albums you’re likely to hear this year. I strongly recommend you give it a try.
It appears that Griseus had a very early limited release in December 2011, but it became available on Bandcamp this past spring and it can be downloaded or ordered as a digipack CD there. In addition, Aquilus has just signed with the Finnish label Blood Music, which will be releasing Griseus as a double-LP on vinyl in 2013. Aquilus has also remixed its debut 2006 EP Arbor for release next year by Blood Music on CD and vinyl.
The Aquilus Facebook page is at this location. Now, here’s Griseus (if you want to wet your feet by listening to the “most metal” track on the album, that one would be “Arboreal Sleep”).
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