Label: Hammerheart Records
Date: October 27th, 2023
When first I came across this name, I was in the middle of a fantasy novel about people of Atlantis, so I naturally picked it up for review. This time around though, it’s not that I was doing some riddles. I actually remembered the name of these Brits from two years back. They were a sort of a promise that has already half-fulfilled. Their debut being released on a well-respected Black Lion Records was a sign of infant maturity for Ghosts Of Atlantis. Still, it wasn’t as perfect as it was bombastic and therefore quite appealing.
In the two years behind, Ghosts Of Atlantis grew. On “Riddles of the Sycophants” everything seems bigger. Starting from the new and improved choice of label, through quite an ambitious concept that lays within these notes, all the way to the grandiose wall of sound that comes close to that which Dimmu Borgir achieved when they introduced a full orchestra into symphonic black metal.
Basically, it all went up a notch. Including the genre definition which on the surface might seem unchanged, but is levelled and evened out. Ghosts Of Atlantis still follow the same carefully planned and almost screen-written extreme metal, much alike their countrymen and preposition-brethren Cradle Of Filth. However, on the sophomore record our hero much more subtly (except in the closing, title track) infuses the modern metal tendencies into the gothic laden symphonic black metal. Such is the path to indeed monumental and up-to-date cinematic, three-dimensional extreme metal spectacle.
You’ve got all the necessary ingredients. Mainly, the variety of instruments and their usage to the needed ends. First and foremost, the vocal extravaganza that ranges from primal black metal screams to choir backup. Symphonic elements included are likely artificially added with keyboard magic, but there’s enough technology nowadays that gave them enough of a boost to avoid sounding weak or flat.
Now, when I mentioned that there’s a concept involved, you sort of figured out that there needs to be enough complexity in composition. Especially when symphonic metal comes into play. My not-so-subtle hints towards film scores being another nudge. You’re right. “Riddles of the Sycophants” is arranged according to rules never found in popular music. The tracks on this album are episodes of a full story. As such, they are complex images, teeming with details, owing a certain flow to the chapter they are to depict. Be it an overly emotional event, contemplative moments where the heroes lament the decline of all that is pure in the world or echoing whirlwinds of a gigantic battlefield. Ghosts Of Atlantis cover them all in a tale of epic proportions which would greatly suffer from traditional equations of radio-friendly hits.
Since I’m mentioning the tale itself, there’s a massive minus to be splattered unto this promotional package. I don’t have the lyrics. Though there’s a reasonably good explanation of the concept in the press release, it’s an outline only and leaves a lot to imagination. From what I can gather, it’s a build-up on the mythical Atlantis and the survivors of its demise that is intertwined with ancient epos. Ambitious, to say the least. That’s why I believe that the lyrics are necessary to rightly judge “Riddles of the Sycophants”. Without them, I might have just gotten the version without the vocals.
Regardless, I need to finish this the way it is. The truth about the second outing of these Englishmen is right somewhere at the start of my review. Although the band has made a definite step forward, introducing a much more complete and better-rounded vision of their sound, the modern symphonic black metal, they still have goals ahead. Speaking from a viewpoint of an awe-inspiring album, it holds just a couple of gems that stick out from the bunch straight into collective memory of the band’s fanbase. Tracks like “The Alkonost” or the epic “Lands of Snow”, the first being an example of using 21st century groove as the leading force in extreme metal and the second a purebred metal response to “O Fortuna”, not unlike the golden age of Therion. Hooks, needed even at the most progressive of musical works, are the most obvious in these two. Somewhat less in the opening “March of the Titans” or the title track. Shooting out a few more of these and the following output might be the one to aim them at headlining massive stages. For now, the tour that will promote “Riddles of the Sycophants” should do magic for the band, along with a broad megaphone that is Hammerheart Records.
Despite the shortcomings, I count two for two for Ghosts Of Atlantis.