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”).
[bandcamp album=1740052054 bgcol=000000 linkcol=4285BB size=grande3]
Fuck Australian metal is just having a stellar year. One dude! makes me feel like an underachiever…
Very true on both counts. This has been a banner year for Aussie metal, and what Waldorf has accomplished by himself on this album is just flat-out amazing.
Elysian, Ne Obliviscaris, Be’lakor, Levitation Hex…the land of Oz has been on fire in 2012. And now this!
I’ve been thrashing NeO and Be’lakor this year. Hadn’t heard ot Levitation Hex or Elysian but just streamed Elysian at this earlier post:
how did I miss this?! thanks for tips
All four of those bands are fantastic. This morning, we have a guest post that spotlights yet another AUS band worth hearing — Tempestuous Fall.
And I’m a big fan of the 2012 releases from Okera, Beyond Mortal Fall, Dead River Runs Dry, and Gods of Eden:
And if you want some explosive grind, check out the new release by thedowngoing:
Definitely one of the best albums of 2011
Not only 2011. It is/will be one of the best albums of 2012 (as CD) and 2013 (as vinyl) as well!
“Featured on our best-of-the-year lists for three years in a row, …” Wait, what?
Finally, my prayers have been heard! Great review!
And thanks for mentioning my persistence. It really drove me nuts, to know that this genius didnt’t get the recognition he deserved.
I can sleep a little better now 😉
I was afraid my ridiculous delays had driven you away. Glad you saw this, and thanks for your persistence.
Not at all. I came here regularly just to see this review someday. Well, now this reason is no longer there, so I kinda need a new one. I don’t want to sound boastful, but I still know quite a lot of bands which are, in my opinion, worth to write a few words about (though none will reach the level of Aquilus) 😀
So if you’re interested, I’d gladly share them with you. Unfortunately I won’t be able to write the articles myself, cause I really suck at writing and it’s more of a cramp for me ;-(
Fire away. If they’re even close to the level of Aquilus, you can count on me reviewing them, by approximately next June. 🙂
Check your emails! 😀
Done! And so now there is this:
And who would you recommend next from that long list you sent me?
Fuck, I have never read this comment ;-/
Guess you don’t have it anymore, and me either, so maybe I should make a new one?
I still have it, but there are 34 albums on the list. I was kind of hoping you’d pick just one for me to check out next. 🙂 (I’ve already written about RXYZYXR)
Well, then it would be nice if you send it back to me, so I know what bands I’ve put on it and we can communicate a little more privately 😉
Wow. One must have dozed off the first time One listened to this. 😐 This is… Wow!
I just listened to the entirety of the Griseus album. Yeah, got a new favorite album to obsessively listen to. Thanks! (And thanks FistForFun!)
This comment made my day. Thank you.