We’re approaching the halfway mark on 2023’s calendar, but we’ll venture the bold speculation that even by year-end you’ll have a hard time finding an album more overwhelmingly powerful in its sound and mood than Portraits, the forthcoming third album by the French atmospheric black metal band Aodon that’s set for release by Willowtip Records on June 9th. Over and over again, it takes the breath away with the monumental scale and visceral intensity of its music.
The themes of the songs are dark, and unmistakably the music is too, even in its suddenly softer phases, which provide haunting (and occasionally even hopeful) reprieves from the album’s turbulent and towering intensity. It is, to forewarn you, a harrowing series of portrayals, but so immense and immersive that it chains the senses in place, caught and consumed by the calamities and the contrasts.
As foreshadowed by the album’s title, each of its nine songs (all of which you’re about to hear) represents the portrayal of a person, some fictitious some real, each one “guided towards their fall by a different element: misery, ego, addiction, belief, violence, obedience, abuse, destruction or love.” As the band explain:
“With Portraits, we gave free rein to all the ambivalence of Aodon‘s music, both enraged and melodic, hostile and immersive. It was the perfect setting to present these nine dark destinies.”
In crafting these dark studies Aodon deploy densely layered guitars, most striking in the brilliance of their high-end reverberations; as well as a momentous bass presence, constantly variable drumming, and vocals whose intensity seems so torching that it will leave listeners blistered and scarred. Their vaulting ambition leads them to operate most of the time on a massive scale, but they do traverse a spectrum of intensity and mood, continuously (if briefly) making room for considerably more fragile and poignant experiences in the spaces between the storms.
Aodon launch the album with the exhilarating yet also crestfallen “Swen“, an immediate eruption of hammering drums, waves of high searing guitar vibrations, and scalding screams. There’s a weighty bass pulse in the song too, as well as spine-cracking percussive blows and riotous fills, and although the riffing continues to feverishly vibrate, the mood of the music falls, opening a chasm of desperation, and slows, allowing a sizzling solo to pour out a heart full of grief. The music also panoramically expands, revealing visions of daunting wonder.
A brittle but glistening guitar harmony creates an atmosphere of mystery at the outset of “Egan“, but soon enough the music heaves like a dark sea, ominous and harrowing, and crashes in bouts of blistering drumwork and whirlpool riffing. The song suffuses the senses, but within its maelstroms a frantically flickering lead guitar shines through, as if fighting to survive. The rhythm section continue to smack the listener’s skull and rumble the bones, and the song rises to towering heights.
Feelings of turbulent calamity fuel “Mayerson“, compiled from hyper-speed drum blasting, typhoon-strength riffage that blisters, bouts of lo-frequency jolting, and incinerating vocals — but the music also suddenly softens, the bass moodily humming and the guitars ringing like haunting chimes in a cold wind.
“Adam” also blasts and races from the beginning, immersing the listener in a cauldron of roiling guitars and the hair-raising screams of a man being torn apart from inside out. Confusion and anguish reign within this engulfing blaze, but here too Aodon make a change, as the drums go off like methodical gunshots and the chords rise like an obsidian sonic monument that casts ominous shadows. Once again, Aodon also soften the blows, allowing the guitars unnervingly to chime.
“Miquella“, on the other hand, is even more deeply steeped in moods of despair. The riffing burns but beseeches, the rhythm section inflict powerful sledgehammer blows and create frightening upheavals. Here too, Aodon switch gears, making a broad space for woozy guitar reverberations to wander among shimmering mists exhaled by a second guitar, a space to breathe before they send the song into a zenith of breathtaking ferocity.
There’s more beguiling guitar glitter to be found in the opening of “Andreas“, reminiscent of post-punk, before the music sweeps and soars once more. The bass provides a vivid presence in this one, throbbing in heat and pounding the pulse while the guitars rapidly scissor, writhe like serpents, and scorch like wildfire, as the drums snap and tumble. This song also eventually rolls forward in huge waves — daunting, deleterious, and devouring — segmented by drumless passages that sound mysterious and moody.
Firestorms blaze, earthquakes rumble, and automatic weaponry fires in “Liza“, but guitars also moan, as if with hands outstretched in futile supplication, and softly weep in tones of tears dropping into shimmering pools of loss.
With the end of the album fast approaching, Aodon create one of the most immediately gripping openings of all for “Inaki“, and while the riveting brilliance of the opening guitars persists and expands in scale, the song is also a heavy, lurching behemoth of sound, grim and weighted with grief, though it also bolts into a hammering race.
All good things must come to an end, and Aodon end their new album with “Sheelagh“. Here, the guitar-chimes ring again, creating a languid, inviting, spring-like harmony. That prelude creates a dreamy lull, but of course Aodon dial up the intensity. The snare pops like a steady metronome, but the riffing ravishes in the higher reaches and the undercurrent heaves, creating a dire harmony. The vocals shriek and roar, the drums hammer like pistons, the guitars translate fevers of pain… and suddenly silence falls.
M-Kha – Music Composer, Lead guitar, Drums and Screams
Laurent C. – Rythmic guitar
Alix R. – Bass and lyrics
The music was composed and recorded by M-kha. The mixing and mastering was done by AJ Viana Productions. As the label says, “the artwork of Alex Eckman Law perfectly represents this reflection on the unsuspected elements present in each one of us beyond appearances, leading us to nothingness”.
Willowtip recommends Portraits for fans of Infestus, V:28, and Mgla.