Ahamkara - The Embers of the Stars
Bindrune Recordings
Atmospheric Black Metal
4 songs (47' 35")
Release year: 2014
Reviewed by Andy
Surprise of the month

The atmospheric black metal scene certainly has its share of disappointments, but it cuts both ways; sometimes you pick up a record that is a pleasant surprise. Ahamkara's first LP, The Embers of the Stars, is one in the latter category. This two-man UK project, headed by Wodensthrone keyboardist Michael Blenkarn, succeeds in distilling an outsized amount of talent into only four songs (though since none of them is under ten minutes long, there is plenty of space to fill), and the result is a complex and emotional work that lesser atmospheric black metal bands often aspire to without success.

The production job is very good; like many atmospheric bands, Ahamkara shuns the lo-fi aesthetic of their traditional cousins. But this isn't a sighing, synth-driven sound like a lot of nature-themed metal, even though it's clear the band is interested in that subject -- the guitars and drumming on Midwinter's Hymn have precedence in the black metal of the 90s, despite the air of cosmic wistfulness and distance that flows from the song. Blenkarn plays all the instruments with an assurance that lets the song slide from tremolo-picked guitar riffs to a bass that engages in mini-melodies on the slow portions of the song, while his drum programming ensures that the listener gets a good deal of battering from the virtual double-kick, with some lovingly constructed fills that sound like they took some time to get just right. Steve Black's vocals are 90s black metal vocals that don't bother listeners, even as they overlay a melodic hook in On the Shores of Defeat that runs in 3/4 time.

Lamentation of a Wraith is fast and thundering, and though the drumming doesn't let up at all until about halfway through, there is a shroud of almost symphonic keyboard elements covering the whole song and giving it a huge, open-air feel. It wouldn't be completely unfair to call this a faster, heavier, less post-rock version of a Fen album, but only if one means it in a good way; Lamentation of a Wraith has its reflective moments, but not at the expense of the metal. The final track, To Invoke the Stars Themselves, starts out with a "cosmic space noise" mixed with what sounds like a tide coming in, until the guitars start up explosively; this song seems more amelodic than the rest at first and Black's screams are sharper and harsher here than on anywhere else on the album, but after a while of this there is an interlude of keyboard and clean-guitar to let things rest for a bit, followed by some Agalloch-style lead guitar soloing that fits the mood perfectly.

Like Blenkarn's Wodensthrone albums, The Embers of the Stars shows not only some serious musical ability, but also songwriting that can really provide the atmosphere the band strives for while being melodic enough to avoid anything aimless that wastes the listener's time. Fen and Agalloch fans should check this one out.

Killing Songs :
Midwinter's Hymn, Lamentation of a Wraith
Andy quoted 86 / 100
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