Bal-Sagoth
Atlantis Ascendant

There are two opposing factions when it comes to this British five piece. Either you hate them, and think that their over-the-top theatrical metal is cheesy synth-heavy fodder for basement dwelling D&D fanatics. Or, you love the bombastic barbarian imagery and grandiose epic metal styling, set to fantasy inspired orchestrations. I fall in the latter group. I love Bal-Sagoth, and have followed their maturation process.

 From the guttural Robert E. Howard-based slab of barbarian death metal on A Black Moon Brood Over Lemuria, to the sci-fi soundscapes of The Power Cosmic, I love them all. Well this is the new CD, the second on big time label Nuclear Blast and it swathes a deep red path with a double-edged bastard sword of sonic battery. Unfortunately, one edge of the sword is a little blunt. You see there is good news and bad news concerning this latest release. I’ll start with the shiny steel edge of the good news. It’s a Bal-Sagoth album. There’s an epic intro, and a somber finalizing outro. The music is still driven by dominating synths that soar and cascade throughout the Atlantis Ascendant. The synths really do recreate some fantastic imagery from Tolkien-esque legend that makes this band unique to listen to. They have returned somewhat to their fantasy roots after the space-themed departure of The Power Cosmic. For me, that was a great relief, as the band really has a knack of taking you far away to distant Atlantean realms, full of wizards, sloe-eyed maidens and great dragons. Also still present, is the driving force behind the lyrical imagery: Lord Byron. To me he is one of the best lyric writers around. A Bal-Sagoth CD is an immersive trip into Lord Byron’s universe. Deep, rich, and full of larger than life characters. He really should write novels. His astonishing lyrics are delivered in his usual dual tone vocals. His obvious favorite being the deep spoken word delivered in over-the-top kingly fashion, and then a rather weak blackened scream.

On Atlantis Ascendant, Bal-Sagoth has greatly improved their song writing too. The duet of John and Chris Maudling has certainly found their groove, easily penning two of the bands best songs ever (“Draconis Albionemsis” & “The Dreamer in the Catacombs of Ur”). Although all 10 tracks don’t quite stand up the supreme effort on Battle Magic, it is a definite improvement over The Power Cosmic. All the songs have great layers of guitars, chugging along nicely to grandiose synth work. As usual the synths are the key to Bal-Sagoth, they drive the music, and here it is no exception. They even do something a little different, like the vocal choir effect on “Dreamer in the Catacombs of Ur.” There are pompous moments of galloping grandeur that are a trademark of any Bal-Sagoth album, but alas this is where things take a downward axe slash. There are so many of the aforementioned moments of militaristic, pounding grandiosity, that it should evoke a feeling of marching ahead of a vast army, returning triumphantly from battle. A parade of cavalry and gleaming infantry marching through obsidian spired streets, to the pounding of war drums.

 However, due to a very thin production, these moments come across more like a Homecoming parade. What should riffs of deep, bombastic shield thumping are weakened by tin-like drums and guitars that are too high end. This is a crying shame; as such well-written songs deserve to sound better. It’s almost a reversal from The Power Cosmic, which had average songs with a stellar production that made the songs sound better. Atlantis Ascendant has much better songs that sound worse. While this is no means a bad album, it’s still Bal-Sagoth and a dammed fine sword-raising affair, it could have been so much better. Although I’m glad to see than return to their Howardian roots, I wish they would have returned more gloriously.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by E. Thomas
April 17th, 2001

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