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4.39 | 11 ratings | 4 reviews
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Album · 2011


1. Nihil (14:00)
2. Loss (9:05)
3. Smokefall (7:00)
4. In Lands of Ashes (11:55)
5. Latent Thistle (5:35)
6. Arboreal Sleep (8:30)
7. The Fawn (6:20)
8. Night Bell (17:30)

Total time 1:19:55


- Waldorf / all instrumentation

About this release

Label: A Sad Sadness Song
Release date: December 21st, 2011

Thanks to Time Signature for the addition and adg211288 for the updates


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This enigmatic release from this Australian one-man black metal band blends symphonic black metal majesty with more purely classical moments, as well as a thick vein of dark folk music reminiscent of Ulver's Kveldssanger. Although some of the symphonic moments are a bit overpowering and threaten to drown out other aspects of the music, on the whole this is an intriguing mixture of influences that results in an atmosphere of truly epic majesty. Whereas some one-member projects in black metal go for a stripped-down, lo-fi aesthetic, this is quite the reverse, with a lush production which is a credit to the group's sole member, Waldorf.

(OK, I know pseudonyms are kind of a thing in black metal, but here I think they made a bad call... it kind of begs for a collaborator to come onboard calling themselves Statler, with laughs at the expense of lesser black metal bands between the songs...)
MMA Reviewers Challenge: Album Selected by adg211288

As a power metal fan, atmospheric black metal is one of those genres you'd think should be the total opposite of what I enjoy: Where power metal is often fast, upbeat and happy, atmospheric black metal is often slow, dark and grim, making it tonally the exact opposite. However, while the genre is far from what I'd consider my area of expertise, I have heard a few albums within that style that have impressed me over the years, the most obvious of those being Marrow of the Spirit, by Agalloch. It turns out, I actually very much enjoy music that's built around setting a dark tone and creating a strong atmosphere, which is obviously what this genre does. I also happen to enjoy classical music from time to time, as well as folk music. Now, how does that seemingly random sentence fit in with everything else in this paragraph? Well, let's just say, none of my previous experience could have possibly prepared me for the masterpiece that is Griseus, the debut (and currently only) full length release from Australian one man band Aquilus.

To be honest, I'd have a hard time even describing Griseus as a black metal album. Don't take that the wrong way, or anything: There certainly are some harsh vocals here, and in fact they certainly do have a very dark, blackened tone to them as you'd expect from the genre. And yes, there definitely are some very heavy passages on this release, which again fits in perfectly for black metal. So then, why would I say what I did at the start of this paragraph? Basically, while there are many passages here I could easily consider black metal, I'd say well over half of the album is actually very calm and subdued, actually very relaxing at times, even for this particular type of black metal, though it's certainly still dark and very atmospheric. The use of acoustic guitars to create a thick atmosphere is extremely impressive and definitely one of the album's biggest strengths.

However, the real key to this album is where the classical music reference I made earlier comes in. Yes, there are many symphonic black metal bands that use elements of classical music to make their symphonic elements sound epic, with Dimmu Borgir being an obvious example of that, but where bands like that tend to use it in a very flashy way, Waldorf, the man behind Aquilus, uses classical piano throughout this album in a very nice way, adding even more atmosphere to the music. There are some orchestral elements as well, but even these are used in a very deliberate manner, and feel like a very natural part of the music. There are many sections, though, where the piano takes over and these sections are absolutely stunning and some of the best parts of the album. Perhaps the best example of this is around the midway point of the intro track “Nihil”, where the piano is used in a very creepy way, and gives way to an extended classical section that is simply incredible, and was the first point on my first listen where I was absolutely amazed by what I was hearing.

One last element to the music is the occasional use of folk music. This is done in two ways. Occasionally, the acoustic guitar sections give way to some dark folk melodies, and these are done very well, but there are also brief sections where actual folk elements appear, with the most obvious of these being near the end of “Latent Thistle”, where the often dark music gives way to a very beautiful and upbeat folk section briefly, and it's definitely a memorable moment. So on the whole, while there certainly are strong elements of black metal on this release, I'd say there's a surprising amount of non metal elements, and everything is blended together very impressively, with each track flowing seamlessly from one element to another, and everything fits together perfectly.

Vocals are used rather sparingly throughout, with the album on the whole being focused on largely extended instrumental sections. There are a couple styles of vocals here, though. First up, the black metal growls are very powerful and fit in very well with the heavier sections. Between the sound of the vocals and the rather raw production on these sections, the black metal sections are very powerful and are mostly used in quick but explosive bursts. There are also some clean vocals here, where Waldorf layers his voice in such a way that it often sounds like choral vocals, even though it's all the work of one man. These vocals work well and are mostly used during some of the classical sections. I especially like one point right at the end of “Loss”, where it's a classical section with Waldorf using those choral style vocals in the background, but he also uses his growls in a very theatrical kind of way that almost sounds as if he's trying to use them classically. It's quite the interesting effect and works really well.

It's hard to single out any one track here, as everything is very well done. This is a very long album, nearly reaching 80 minutes and there are 8 tracks, three of which go over 10 minutes, while only one is under 6 minutes, so obviously there's no simple interludes or no real straight-forward songs here. At the same time, I can say not a second is wasted, and I actually have an easy time giving the album consecutive spins, so that has to say something for an album this long, considering it's not even in one of my usual favorite genres. As tough as it is to do a song by song breakdown, I can give a very brief summary and list highlights for each track. First up, “Nihil” is a 14 minute opener which starts off with a nice atmospheric intro, before the black metal elements take over for a while, and we get our first taste of Waldorf's growls. This section lasts a while and the tone of the guitar is wonderful and helps add to the atmosphere of the music. As the track hits its midway point, the incredible classical section I mentioned before comes in and lasts a while, and then the track ends with a nice acoustic folk section. An excellent track overall, which introduces every element of the album in a very effective way.

Next is “Loss”, which starts off with a nice piano section, before the black metal elements again take over for a while. The second half is largely soft and atmospheric, and then that incredibly vocal section I mentioned earlier ends the track in stunning fashion. After that, it makes sense that the next track “Smokefall” would get off to the fastest start of any track up to that point. The intro reminds me a bit of Opeth, both in the guitar tone and how the drums sound, though the track quickly moves into darker territory with its first black metal section. The black metal elements are featured more prominently on this track than on most of the other tracks, as the first half constantly alternates between heavier sections with growls, and atmospheric sections where the acoustic guitars lead the way with some haunting melodies. I mentioned it already, but damn the acoustic guitar playing on this album is incredible! Towards the end the track softens up a bit, which leads us into “In Lands of Ashes”, the softest track on this album. Pianos are very dominant on this track, as it's a near 12 minute mostly instrumental track that alternates nicely between classical piano sections and slightly folk influenced sections where the guitars take over. There are occasional whispers in the second half, but otherwise the track has little in the way of vocals, and it's a very peaceful and relaxing track, while still being atmospheric. You may think a track that long with no heavier sections and few vocals would be boring, but if so, you'd be absolutely wrong, as the composition here is fantastic and the music is absolutely beautiful at times, making it stand out just as much as any of the other tracks here.

In contrast to that track, “Latent Thistle” opens with the most explosive black metal section on the album, with some very heavy riffs, epic growls and a cool guitar solo. It's definitely the heaviest sequence on the album, but again, the guitar work is brilliant, and the once the acoustic guitars kick in for a softer section, things get atmospheric and very beautiful once again. Near the end of the track is the folk section I mentioned earlier appears and is absolutely stunning. Next is “Arboreal Sleep”, another track which effectively alternates between heavy sections where the growls appear, and softer acoustic sections. There's a very nice use of the clean vocals early on as well, which gives way to an extended piano section where classical elements appear once again. The end of the track features some very quiet vocals, which are used nicely and fit in well with the tone of the music at that point. After that is “The Fawn”, which opens up with a beautiful classical piano section, before turning into another fairly dark and heavy track in the middle, where the black metal elements take over for a bit. Lastly, we have 17 minute closing track “Night Bell”, which opens up with a rather soft section where choral style vocals are used and we get a nice guitar solo section, before the music gets heavier and we get the last real black metal section on the album. After that, the track softens up quite a bit and turns into one of the more classical influenced tracks, with some excellent piano sections throughout the second half that end the album on an impressive note. Some of the piano playing here is amazing, managing to both be very dark and very beautiful at the same time.

Overall, Griseus is quite the surprising album, as it manages to combine elements of atmospheric black metal, classical music and folk music in a very effective way, and it's certainly one of the most beautiful and most instrumentally exciting black metal albums I've ever heard. Even though it's a long album and there are many different elements used throughout, everything is done so brilliantly and flows together so fluidly, that it ends up feeling like a shorter album then it really is, and it definitely feels like everything came together perfectly on this one. Absolutely brilliant and a must hear for any fan of black metal, or just anyone who wants to hear some atmospheric music that is equal parts dark and beautiful. I'd say it makes me curious to explore other genres more than I ever have before, but at the same time I can also say I don't expect to find many albums outside of my usual styles I enjoy as much as this one, as it's definitely something special.
Black metal that draws influence from symphonic and even classical music, isn't anything new. In facts bands have been doing it since the early nineties. But with debut album Griseus (2011) Australian one man act Aquilus has taken that idea a step further, creating something quite extraordinary in the process.

The black metal here is an atmospheric brand of symphonic black metal. It's well crafted and powerful, but what sets Griseus apart from other symphonic black metal releases is the tendency to switch the metal off and suddenly delve into passages of pure classical music. I'm not talking cheap symphonic interludes, but actual classical. It's rather reminiscent of film score music actually. There's also a dash of dark folk thrown in here and there on the album too, which provides a further special touch to the proceedings. The use of acoustic guitars on the album certainly shouldn't be underestimated. Lone member Waldorf is clearly a talented composer and player, one who truly knows the meaning of how to be epic in such a way that others trying to achieve something as powerful as this should be put to shame. Griseus is one of those rare releases that has left me completely awestruck after the first listen and hasty repeats of the album have done nothing to diminish that. In fact I've played it no less than ten times before even finishing this review, and it's lost none of its impact. As soon as it finishes I want to play it all over again! It's a massive release too at only just shy of eighty minutes, and it still has that kind of effect on me. Times flies when you're having fun, and so do the best albums.

Though there are eight tracks on Griseus with lengths ranging between 5:35 and 17:30, you can't really take any one of them out of the package and expect to get the same effect as the whole release gives you. In essence this album may as well have been one long track because that's how it works best even with pauses between the compositions. The opener Nihil sets a good example of what the album is all about. It's an incredibly journey through Waldorf's influences. Not counting any of the shorter passages the main parts of the song take you through black metal first, then some classical and then some folk to finish. Whether the tracks are the shorter ones like Latent Thistle and The Fawn or longer epics like In Lands of Ashes and Night Bell, the music never fails to captivate. Griseus is, simply put, one of the best black metal albums I've ever heard. Which is really why this review has been do damn difficult to write, as nothing I can stay about it here will have half as much impact as checking the album out for yourself and, hopefully, being as blown away as I have been.
Time Signature
Night bell...

Genre: symphonic black metal

Never having heard the music of the Australian one-man band before, I have seen Aquilus' music described as neoclassical folk music, and I honestly expected "Griseus" to be a really cheesy blend of Opus Atlantica and Yngwie Malmsten.

You can imagine my shock upon actually listening to the album, learning that it has absolutely nothing to do with neoclassicalism in the sense of Malmsten, Blackmore, Mattsson and all those other guitarists, and that there was very little folk music as well (actually, the only place where there is a real folk feel is towards the end of 'Latent Thistle'. Instead, the listener is treated to what is perhaps best described as symphonic black metal.

Making use of black metal style riffage, combined with occasional blastbeats and indecipherable harsh screamed and growled, Aquilus' sole member, Waldorf, definitely captures the spirit of black metal. Furthermore, the occasional thrash and death metal passages pop up every now and then alongside more doomy and gothic sections (the vocals are rich in reverb and not unlike what you hear in funeral doom metal and atmospheric black metal).

But metal is only half of the music on this release, as the tunes on this album also feature lush orchestral arrangements (performed on synths, I suspect), some of which accompany the metal instrumentation, and some of which are fully symphonic passages. At times, there is even a cinematic quality to the symphonic arrangements, and at all times, the music on "Griseus" is epic and atmospheric, and - I would say - an artistic success.

I think that the weak spot is the production, as there is a slight lack of equilibrium between the metallic and the symphonic. The symphonic elements are simply louder in the mix than the metallic ones. Now, this might be intentional, but I find it a bit of a shame.

Still, if you are looking for some quality symphonic black metal with lots of atmosphere and a truly epic and dark feel, then it is a good bet that you will find what you seek in Aquilus' "Griseus".

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