Aquilus
Bellum I

“What does music mean to you?

I don’t know. But it’s full of emotion

It’s not happy.

No. It’s not happy”- from “Eternal Unrest”.

Crikey. so I thought Christian Consentino was the only solo artist from Australia making epic, classically inspired, symphonic progressive black metal. Well, apparently there is another one who has been around a while (and I now hear as a clear influence to Cosentino’s superb Lawn EP) and his name is Horace ‘Waldorf’ Rosenqvist (though it is possible they are the same guy?, have they ever been seen in a room together??????), goes under the moniker Aquilus, and he already has somewhat revered full-length album under his belt from 2011 called Griseus.

Apparently in the works since 2013, Bellum I ( Bellum II is forthcoming), is over an hour of utterly enthralling classical music that has black metal in it. Self admittedly using Chopin and Rachmaninoff as his influence, rather than Cosentino’s lighter, airy, uplifting Handel inspired pieces, you get darker, more harrowing, atonal, and twistier moods (one just need to look at the two album covers to see the comparison), though there are plenty of moments of clarity and beauty, and the black metal element is a little harsher and more jarring than Cosentino’s slightly less developed variant. But like Cosentino, it all comes together to form something truly special, especially those patient enough to sit through the lengthy run time and large expansive moments of piano and string orchestration that flesh out this magnificently ambitious piece.

Orchestration of many styles has become commonplace across metal’s sub-genres (Emperor, Rhapsody, Summoning, Hollenthon, Maladie, Fleshgod Apocalypse, So Hideous, Lorna Shore etc), but its largely a dramatic, bombastic sweeping movie score type backdrop. But here it’s far more intricate and compositionally intertwined and often standalone. And reviewing such a complex and largely classical music-inspired piece of music is difficult (can you imagine if there were blogs and zine in the 1500-1700s trying to review Mozart? et al???).  At times I get a Scholomance and late Emperor  due to the complexity of both the classic and black metal elements and it’s clear that Rosenqvist is a virtuoso master of his craft that simply is beyond my journalistic comprehension. But Bellum I has to be taken in as a single piece of work, much like his classic peers, and on good headphones.

After an intro, the first real track, “Into Wooded Hollows” delivers a jarring transition into a dark, lumbering opening few bars that show this isn’t peppy, pompous symphonic. It’s an unwelcoming start to the album, that’s not an easy listen, and frankly almost has me give up, but things slowly transition to a more listenable orchestral closeout. 13 minute “Eternal Unrest” is where the album starts to really take off with some nice riffs to go with the orchestration. “Moon Isabelline” is 5+ minutes of some gorgeously, dramatic piano work before|”The Silent Passing” renders some very interesting stuttering almost discordant death metal riffage, and gruffer vocals that border on Ebonylake like craziness though it never quite gets over into Golden Ashes, De Magia Veterum bat shit insanity.

“Embered Waters” delivers another instrumental segue, before “Lucille’s Gate” delivers the album’s standout with more traditional, bombastic, symphonic black metal frostiness and prose, but a jarring acoustic midsection, keeps things off-kilter and keep you on your toes. Closer “Empyreal Nightsky” is spacey music you’d hear at a Planetarium presentation, and as an almost 10 minute, purely instrumental, symphonic piece, which is rare on a ‘metal’ album, it highlights the challenge the album presents to the casual metal listener. But as a purely neo-classical composition, it’s gorgeous.

As an endnote, this is one of the more challenging reviews I’ve had to write and one of the more challenging albums I’ve listened to in a while. That said, it’s nice there are actual drums rather than Cosentinos’s programmed drums, and the Jen Bogren master is simply perfect making sure everything hits hard rather than the more traditional wispier orchestral presence in symphonic black metal. Ultimately, Bellum I is going to be pretty divisive as either a brilliant, ambitious year-end contender for many people or an overly gregarious self-indulgent piece of music. And I sway between the two almost daily.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Erik T
December 20th, 2021

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