Lotus Thief are the unequivocal masters of literary influenced metal mostly because they choose non-trivial texts to adapt. Instead of another Moby Dick influenced album, or a beleaguered work filled with Tolkien references, Lotus Thief turn to the classics. But even when they do, you won’t find the “obvious” classics; while the band do have a track inspired by The Odyssey in their repertoire, most of the works on which they’ve based their music are more rarefied. Scarcity or obscurity, of course, is not in and of itself a good thing. But it is an indication that the band are committed to looking deeper at the stories and histories which inform our culture and to try and dredge more original visions and interpretations of the works and ideas which percolate at its base. Thus, previous Lotus Thief releases include works like Lucretius’ magisterial De Rarum Natura, the Merseburg Incantations, and Crowley’s The Book of Lies.
Now, Lotus Thief are back with Oresteia, Aeschylus’ triplet of plays describing the return, murder, and downfall of house Atreus and its king, the mighty, haughty, hubris filled Agamemnon. The band explore this classic, and excellent, tale through their usual lens of post-metal and black metal. However, on Oresteia, the band have taken a clearer, more ambient, and subtle approach to their telling. Where Rervm donned a heavy cloak of fuzz, lo-fi production, and aural assaults, Oresteia captures the doom and grandeur of its story through more “open” vocal timbres and a more majestic sweep to its canvas. Heaviness abounds, make no mistake, but its inflected now, given new flavor and colors by the dreamier, more expansive passages on the album.
“Libation Bearers”, taking its name from the second play of the trilogy, is a fantastic example of this. Central are extremely expressive vocals, weaving several lines and voices into a choir-like, echoing experience. They are backed by evocative guitars at time which serve to further set the dramatic tone of the track. Elsewhere, blast-beats and faster guitars usher in abrasive and acidic black metal voices. This duality captures well the character of Aeschylus’ tragedy; the House of Atreus is a noble, powerful, and beautiful house but it is also doomed to destruction by its patriarch and his sacrifice of Iphigenia, his daughter. When listening to “Libation Bearers”, you can almost see the sweeping pillars and beautiful grounds of the home of the Atreus, the black metal influences hinting at the darkness and murder which hides in the corners of your sight. There is beauty yes but it is tampered by the sense of the tragic, the doom that is about to befall every single character in the play. These ideas are then explored elsewhere on the album, like on the enchanting “The Furies”, with its marvelous acoustic guitar tracks.
This is what Lotus Thief do best; they are not afraid to challenge their core sound and assumptions in order to better evoke the subject matter at hand. Make no mistake: Oresteia is a work of art which stands on its own merits. There are plenty of great post-black/blackgaze moments to be found on this album (like the great opening track, “Agamemnon”) for fans of the genre. But when taken together with the literary material which informs it, the album just makes that much more sense, enriching the listening experience manyfold. And that’s what sets Lotus Thief apart from most metal bands; their literary fascinations are not just sources for lyrics or cool imagery. Instead, their music breathes and lives alongside their influences, changing when needed to better communicate and convey the messages which the works were always meant to convey.
Of course, if you dig even deeper into the lyrics of the album, you’ll find that the classical bedrock is just that: a basis for deeper discussion of modern themes like gender roles, the morality of justice, and revenge. That’s, of course, also the beauty of the original works; the Greek tragedies are timeless classic exactly because they open themselves to interpretation by readers wherever they are, since they touch on concepts and questions which are almost inherent in the human condition. Lotus Thief relish this “access” into more abstract questions which the original work provides them, using it not to modernize it (an often crude sort of mimicry) but rather to point at the common questions which plague our modern lives and which also harassed the original author of the work. That they do this through music, a form of art which adds plenty of timeless, unmediated forms of expression into the mix, is their true brilliance.
You don’t need to read the Oresteia to enjoy Lotus Thief’s version; you don’t even need to consider the deeper thematics at work on the album itself. The music itself, in its dizzying blend of post-metal, progressive metal, and black metal, is beautiful in its own right, just like the original play was beautiful “simply” for its poetry. But, like any play, if you do choose to dig deeper, if you try and feel what Lotus Thief are saying on this album, about the original plays, about murder, about justice, about hubris, you’ll find yourself enjoying the already excellent album that much more.
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Oresteia, the album, not the centuries old play, releases on January 10th. You can pre-order it via the Bandcamp page above.