Bal-Sagoth
The Chthonic Chronicles

First of all, thanks to Candlelight for giving this album a US deal. I don’t think Nuclear Blast has any idea how many Bal-Sagoth fans there are in the US…

Truth be told, as I’ve gotten older, Bal-Sagoth have become less relevant to me. Whether it is my aging process or the fact Bal-Sagoth have been treading mediocre waters since Battle Magic, Lord Byron’s deep narratives sound more like Plankton from the Spongebob Squarepants (‘Colossal Eeeeeeeevil!’) and the fantastical keyboards sound less fantastical and more hokey. From the clean, sci-fi stylings of The Power Cosmic to the forced, teasing majesty of Atlantis Ascendant (and their virtually identical covers), England’s metal barbarians have never managed to capture the glory of their first three albums.

All that being said, I greet each new Bal-Sagoth with renewed sense of anticipation in the hope they will deliver the grandiose barbaric pomp they once did, and I can safely say the final part of Bal-Sagoth’s epic hexalogy, The Chthonic Chronicles, while certainly far from the best of the band’s career, is their best since Battle Magic.

Of course, this is a Bal-Sagoth album, so most will either love it or hate it and those that love it will take the colossal amounts of cheese with a grain of salt and just enjoy Lord Byron’s wordy dual musings layered with Jonny Maudling’s movie score synths and bombastic percussion now provided by Dan Mullins, who seems to be responsible for the band’s slight return to glory.

Though the band hasn’t been a pure fantasy/Conan styled band for quite some time, having flirted with the cosmos and the historical exploration of Atlantis, The Chthonic Chronicles though certainly not a Hypoborian saga, feels more ‘high fantasy’ than the last two albums despite its Lovecraftian theme; it’s darker and more antagonistic despite a production that continues to drain Bal-Sagoth of their potential power.
As expected, the album starts and ends with the instrumental pieces. ‘The Sixth Adulation of His Chthonic Majesty’ sets the mood and the throwback named ‘Return to Hatheg-Kla’ closes the opus out with appropriate mood. Two other instrumentals break up the album also; the rather out of place ‘The Fallen Kingdoms of the Abyssal Plain’ and the epic ‘To Storm the Cyclopean Gates of Byzantium’ which is one of the band’s better instrumentals of recent years.

The rest of the tracks cover expected Bal-Sagoth territory; bombastic but slightly tinny black metal with Lord Byron’s black rasp and now completely over the top spoken words, and though he is still a magnificent lyric writer, it is getting a tad old. On the whole, the tracks are consistently better than both of the last albums, and whereas The Power Cosmic and Atlantis Ascendant had one track that saved grace (‘The Scourge of the Fourth Celestial Host’ and ‘Draconis Albionemsis’ respectively), The Chthonic Chronicles has three or four ‘better’ tracks that make the album standout a little more from the previous two. Both ‘The Obsidian Crown Unbound’ and ‘The Hammer of the Emperor’ seem to harken back to Starfire -ish majesty and more epic scope while ‘Shackled to the Trilithon of Kutulu’ and ‘Beneath the Crimson Vaults of Cydonia’ is the heaviest the band has been since A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria. However. ‘Six Score and Ten Oblations to a Malefic Avatar’ and the wandering ‘Arcana Antediluvia’ even with some more experimental synth use, are unwieldy missteps that stop this album from being mentioned in the same breath as Starfire.

Now the hexalogy is complete, and now I wonder if the band might pack it in after this or return back to a more fantastic, battle clarion theme after a stint in outer space and deep in the earth. I hope so…

[Visit the band's website]
Written by E. Thomas
March 10th, 2006

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