In late autumn of 2022, the French pagan/black metal band Aldaaron finally released their long-awaited album Arcane Mountain Cult via Paragon Records. And although they never officially disbanded, the hiatus was implausibly long – a whole ten years, so the fans of atmospheric and wintry black metal eagerly awaited this comeback. Even though they have already released a new album a few months ago (only with a one-year gap), let’s now focus on their third full-length release Arcane Mountain Cult.
This album is notable for the fact that it was recorded in English, deviating from their habit of singing in their native French. Truth be told, there isn’t much singing here; the musical component is the core of this album, whereas the vocal parts are perceived solely as one of the musical instruments, as well as emphasizing certain emotions and creating a more cohesive and complex atmosphere. Their lyrical roots lie in the snowy mountains of real worlds and the icebergs of fantasy realms. These French guys adore winter – a wonderful time to contemplate the harsh realities of life and to philosophize about death.
The foundation of this music is established in traditional and pure black metal, as well as in the waters of primeval lakes, in the breath of the wind, and in the heart of raw nature. If the aggressive part of atmospheric black with its characteristic piercing screams, repetitive guitar riffs, and devastating blast beats is on the surface, the folk aspect is hidden beneath layers of centuries-old snow with a constant whistling of the frosty wind in the background. The folk side softens the belligerence of black metal, revealing the vulnerability of the music, which is only superficial at first glance. Meanwhile, this duo from Grenoble, consisting of multi-instrumentalist Ioldar and guitarist Voldr, does not indulge in excessive use of synthetic effects. Also you won’t find any romantic passages or folk instruments here, and although Arcane Mountain Cult is tinted with melancholic tones, there is still an epic hope in it that someday winter will end and spring will come. But this is more of a pale aftertaste; it’s better to prepare for a 30+ minute immersion into the realm of eternal winter and destructive snowstorms, where there is nothing but sharp loneliness and merciless nature.
There is no excess of ambient elements, although the beginning may seem common for atmospheric black/dark ambient genre – “Prologue” is a windy, chilly and atmospheric soundscape of nature’s inner voice. The harshness of black metal is present in almost every song, not allowing the folk spirit to take the forefront. Even the epic moments are subdued on this album; on “Adorned with Frost” they are more audible, where images of elven music and the sounds of mountain streams with crystal-clear water emerge beneath an acoustic passage. So here melodic tranquility is meticulously embroidered into the canvas of black metal’s rigidity. You won’t hear any technical wonders like progressive elements or modern innovations such as post-black or blackcore; everything here is calm and traditional, with great respect for the genre’s classics.
In general, Aldaaron prefers minimalism; there are few details, surprises or mood changes. The music is smooth and somewhat predictable, but not to the extent that you wouldn’t notice its uniqueness. The sound is a bit too dusty and crispy, but considering that the mountain valley winds are constantly howling in the background, it is quite pertinent. The level of melancholy doesn’t go overboard, without overwhelming sadness and suicidal thoughts – “Pride and Sorrow” perfectly captures this. “Morgoth” teases us with a spirit straight from the 80s, when heavy and thrash metal were at the peak of glory, and despite the level of unease and the familiar frost in the background, this song stands out with its old-school spirit. The eponymous “Arcane Mountain Cult” is a long and contemplative tapestry, where the struggle between primitive black metal and melodic folk elements is most evident. In essence, the entire album harbors some pagan vibes in the subconscious, increasing gradually when you immerse yourself carefully in this snowy music.
The album’s aura is shrouded in mystique and ceremonialism, bearing reflections of ancient secrets and lost knowledge. Hence, the longing and nostalgia for something forgotten and bygone are vividly expressed. The artwork vibrantly portrays this, emphasizing affection for snow-covered pinnacles of antediluvian mountains. After a decade-long hiatus, Aldaaron have returned fresh and rejuvenated, exhaling into this world a brisk, frosty breath of pure black metal, adorned with folk motifs and epic solemnity.
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