The sound of epic doom has fallen by the wayside a bit. Scores of upcoming bands heed the clarion call of 80’s/90’s revivalism within metal and new groups are churning out excellent death metal, speed metal, and heavy metal albums by the minute. Dormant giants reawaken as Cirith Ungol and Demilich decide to play a few more shows before truly calling it quits. But the branch of metal’s family tree that has given us such incredible fruit as Solstice and Solitude Aeternus, not to mention the legendary Candlemass, seems to be withering. That’s not to say there are none who would not still carry the banner of epic doom, though: Capilla Ardiente from Chile’s new record The Siege is a progressive, thought-provoking addition to the genre’s new annals and Spirit Adrift are fusing epic doom with high-voltage American heavy metal.
There is one truly towering band among the modern soldiers of epic doom, though, one giant that demands to be recognized: Atlantean Kodex. The Bavarian quintet made an enormous name for themselves with their past two offerings, 2010’s The Golden Bough and 2013’s The White Goddess (A Grammar of Poetic Myth). For good reason, too; their sound is the true Platonic ideal of epic doom metal, loud and bursting at the seams with adventurous bravado.
After six years, they’ve finally deemed the world ready for their newest record, The Course of Empire. And, well, it sounds like Atlantean Kodex, which is to say, it’s fucking awesome. Loud, swaggering guitars and resounding percussion form a bombastic march, atop which lie soaring keyboards and belted vocals. To listen to Atlantean Kodex is to find oneself in the land of classical myth, to invoke the constellations and walk through their stories. One minute, you’re sitting at your computer, and the next you’re swept into the legends of yore.
A dissection of how exactly Atlantean Kodex manages this arcane trick finds three components of roughly equal importance. The first lies in the moment-to-moment songwriting, the riffs and choruses and refrains and solos. The band makes almost-constant use of major key guitar harmonies (you may know these from every Iron Maiden song ever) that lend a sense of depth and grandeur to the melodies they deploy – which are already plenty majestic in their own right, pulling from the progressions and scales of European folk music for a timeless sound. The riffs are mostly on the faster end of mid-paced, which allows the band to gallop and move at a fair clip through movements within tracks without asking too much from the listener’s endurance (a great thing, too, considering the album’s 62-minute running time). The choruses are slow, enormous affairs, tidal waves of sound that demand immediate, unceasing, and total attention.
The second ingredient in this potent brew is the overall pace of the band’s sound. Indeed, this might be the greatest strength Atlantean Kodex has in their collective sonic DNA: they have an excellent collective understanding of exactly how long is too long, and make sure to ride every riff, chorus, interlude, refrain, solo, what-have-you to that exact line where it’s given forth all it has to offer. That’s not to imply they only write in a linear structure – they practice a composition that almost feels ring-like and inspired by classical epic – but that they know exactly how to build, conserve, and transfer energy between movements within their songs to create something that feels constantly propulsive and still dynamic. They have a total mastery over progression and songcraft.
The last core element of the sound of Atlantean Kodex is assuredly their style of production. Everything comes together in a manner that is huge, dominating, monumental: the drums are cavernous and booming, the guitars are towering monoliths of distortion, and the vocals reverberate and echo from the skies above. It’s strange to describe a metal band’s production style as a key part of their identity as a band, but hearing any of Atlantean Kodex’s songs immediately puts any doubt about the accuracy of this to rest.
For better and for worse, The Course of Empire continues in their single-minded quest to iterate on this formula; they have pulled a new batch of songs from the same ingredients as before, mixed together in the same cauldron as before. As one might expect, there’s a certain tug-of-war between refinement and comfort that comes along with this: tracks like “Lion of Chaldea” and the title track are among the best that Atlantean Kodex have written to date, while others, like “He Who Walks Behind The Years” feel as though the group could have used any of the ample available space to experiment and push themselves a bit more.
Two different tracks emerge here, diametrically opposed but both equally valid: the first, that after six years one should just be happy to have new songs from Atlantean Kodex; the second, that in the six years between The White Goddess and this they couldn’t figure out one thing to implement in a new album for some differentiation? But, of course, it’s hard to imagine any previous fan of the band not feeling at least a moderately sanguine disposition towards Empire. After all, it has been six years.
In discussing art critically, one of the most important questions to ask is, “who is this piece for?” Sometimes, it’s hard to answer, but thankfully, here, at least one answer is pretty obvious. Assuredly, The Course of Empire is absolutely not for those who already know and dislike what Atlantean Kodex have to offer the world. However, for the rest of us, those who have waited six years for this record or just found out about them in the lead-up to Empire‘s release, those who come for the riffs or the evocative musical storytelling, those who love Atlantean Kodex for their melodic sensibilities or impeccable songcraft or resplendent production or all three, this is a solid new entry in the ongoing chronicle of perhaps the strongest and truest torchbearer of the epic doom metal sound. Never mind that it isn’t the most original or innovative record of the year – it’s new Atlantean fucking Kodex, and it’s awesome.
The Course of Empire came out last month through Van Records. You can order music or merchandise through their website.