Although the Australian solo black metal band Artanor released a split in 2009 (and its sole creator Menelyagor released a demo three years earlier under the name Fen Hollen), there has been no follow-up until now. But as follow-ups go, the band’s forthcoming debut album In Servitude of Darkness (to be released on July 27th by Gutter Prince Cabal) is an unusually ambitious one.
Rather than a stitching-together of unconnected individual songs, it’s the creation of a cohesive soundtrack to an expansive tale of fantasy that Menelyagor has been writing, a novel that relates the conflict between the Necromancer Rakinar and his evil minions, who have lost the capacity to distinguish between right and wrong, and Rakinar’s children and their allies, the Murkar. Menelyagor tells us this about the narrative and its connection to the music:
“In Servitude of Darkness is a concept that is based around a high fantasy novel I’ve been writing, titled “Stones of Creation”.
“The album (and its title) focus on the Necromancer Rakinar and his minions who serve their master willingly, and with an evil passion. Once normal humans, they no longer possess the ability to decipher between right or wrong, or good or bad – due to the dark magic that resurrected them into a life of blind servitude.
“In opposition and contrast to this are the Murkar who are an integral faction in the book. The Murkar are well suited to be weaved into the albums theme, due to their past history with the Necromancer, and his minions.
“This gives the album a certain balance and harmony, with the Murkar standing in opposition to their evil adversaries. The end result I was aiming to achieve, musically, was for the listener to hear and feel the balance between the triumphs and failures in a similar way that a reader might experience from reading a book.”
In bringing this narrative to life through music, Artanor succeeds in creating sounds of vicious evil run rampant, dire conflicts, and indeed episodes of stirring triumph and crushing failure, all of it shrouded in an atmosphere of magic, mysticism, and majesty.
We should acknowledge that metal which is inspired by high fantasy, even including black metal, often falls prey to synth-dominated “cheesiness”. It’s a pitfall worth mentioning, because Artanor so capably avoids it.
The music does conjure fantastical visions, but does so through different means. At full power, the riffing is harsh and viciously aggressive, with drumming that leaps into full riot-mode and fanged vocals that are utterly bestial and biting. As the music roils and sears and the drums race in headlong gallops, it’s capable of generating sensations of malice, cruelty, and blazing conflicts, but is threaded with flickering leads and vivid bass lines that generate an aura of the supernatural.
In addition to surrounding the listener in enveloping waves of breathtaking intensity, the melodies also create episodes of beleaguered travail and near-hopelessness, slowing and clawing or staggering their way forward in the shadows of gloom (the closing track being a prime example of that), or switching into feral rocking grooves and rambunctious fills backing piercing, well-layered riffs that seem to wail in confusion, pain, and anguish. Moreover, the music includes moments of resistance and resilience, but like the desperate resistance of beings with their backs against the wall.
The bass is a gripping presence in all of the music’s changing phases, nimble and given to inventive variations, as are the constantly changing tempos within the songs. At times (though only briefly) grim spoken words and harmonized singing (also grim, or agonized) replace the teeth-bared snarls and strangled howls, further adding to the album’s variety.
In both their most incendiary phases and their most forlorn, the music also rises to heights of majesty, both the majesty of evil transcendent and the majesty of tragedy.
It’s easy to get caught up in this epic musical narrative, and to experience the push and pull of its emotions. It’s in many ways a moving album, and probably pulls hardest on the heart strings in the emotionally searing “A Reminder of Past Glory“, an intense but wholly captivating track that’s this writer’s favorite among the album’s six (with “First Born Minion” a close second). Its success in that respect is a chief reason why it avoids the pitfall mentioned earlier.
And with that we’ll leave you to our premiere stream of In Servitude of Darkness, and encourage you to set aside the time to experience all of it in one sitting: