ALPTHRAUM — Eyes Of A Monument (review)

ALPTHRAUM — Eyes Of A Monument album cover Album · 2011 · Symphonic Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Symphonic metal. Tell me now, when you see or hear that term who is the first band that you think of? Is it Nightwish? Or maybe it’s one of the many Dutch bands such as Within Temptation, Epica, or the now defunct After Forever? Regardless, I suspect most people reading this review will be thinking of those bands or similar when they consider symphonic metal. Eyes of a Monument is the debut full-length album from Canada’s Alpthraum. It’s a symphonic metal album. And it sounds nothing like those bands I mentioned above.

There’s a slight problem though, it’s that Alpthraum has actually been around for a little while now, but were producing ambient black metal and released two demos of such material, in 2009 and 2010, both of which have also been recently re-issued together on a limited CD run. Black metal and symphonic metal are often mixed it is true, but Eyes of a Monument is a complete abandonment of anything remotely black metal. Given the reputation black metal has as something of a purist genre, I cannot help but suspect that anyone who supported Alpthraum in past years is going to be in for something of a disappointment when coming to this album. Even for such a little known artist so early in its musical journey I expect there may even be a few sell-out claims. Symphonic metal is, after all, widely considered as one of the more commercially inclined metal music styles, in contrast to black metal which is supposed to be the exact opposite. Therefore die-hard black metal fans that enjoyed Alpthraum’s earlier output are advised to proceed with caution when approaching Eyes of a Monument, since this is completely different to what the band was producing previously. However I also advise that before writing Alpthraum off, that you continue reading this review.

Although I mentioned above about symphonic metal being seen as one of the more commercial metal genres, Eyes of a Monument is actually anything but. The music is both dark and creepy in its delivery, as well as having many musically epic moments. The vocals are the real oddball though, as they are placed sort of low in the mix. They’re still very audible, but they seem designed to work with the overall atmosphere of the record, rather than being in your face, or even being used to carry the songs in the traditional sense. They’re just there to add to the dark evil atmosphere of the album. In that they work to great effect, which is a good thing because really they’re actually quite unremarkable, and any major focus on the vocals would have really killed this album.

The instrumentation, like much symphonic metal, has its metal side take something of a back seat so that the symphonic side can shine. And shine it does, although I’m also pleased to report that the metal side has its cool moments as well. The riffs are written in such a way that, on their own they wouldn’t really be worth writing home about, but when combined with the symphonies, are very effective. There are some lead parts from the guitars, but they’re used to add the atmosphere, as any good symphonic release should do.

I’m pleasantly surprised by Eyes of a Monument. Alpthraum released a free four track promo in their new symphonic style in 2010 and to be honest I wasn’t much impressed with it, mainly because the production didn’t do the music any justice, and I was of two minds whether I really wanted to bother with Eyes of a Monument. I’m glad I did though, as the production is done just right on the album, which results in a much better listening experience. If ‘dark and creepy’ is your thing then Eyes of a Monument is definitely an album for you.

This is a solid debut full-length. It’s also a nice refreshing change on the symphonic metal genre, which is pretty much dominated by bands such as those I mentioned in the opening of this review, and really, only a few of those have ever delivered anything that was truly exceptional. While I wouldn’t say at the end of the day that Eyes of a Monument is truly exceptional either (it’s good, but not a masterpiece), it’s certainly worth checking out by anyone who enjoys symphonic ideas in metal music and is sick of Nightwish clones. I will be watching Alpthraum’s career with great interest.

(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven, scoring 7.9/10)
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