Opus Magnum

Hard to believe it’s been seven years since the release of Hollenthon‘s previous opus, With Vilest of Worms to Dwell. Besides featuring one of the more memorable covers that year (a coiled snake with a protruding, knuckled spine), it boasted epic, symphonic swells over vaguely Viking riffage and coarse vocals. It should have been right up my alley, but for some reason, the vocals left me cold, and it never got more than a few spins. So let’s see how Opus Magnum builds on that experience.

Well, as you’d expect from the name, Opus Magnum pushes that symphonic excess to even more lurid heights. Frenzied strings, blaring warhorns and doomsday choirs create a grand urgency on nearly every track. And yes, it’s all basically ripped from the dog-eared Carmina Burana playbook, but cliché or not, it’s still an effective sound. There’s something about screaming choirs over rushing, galloping guitars that just always hits that metal pleasure center.

Besides the Orff-worship, Hollenthon also look eastward towards the whole Middle Eastern/Persian mystique – another trend that’s probably gone on for too long now. Luckily, they don’t just throw a couple of Arabic-sounding riffs in there and call it a mood; we get a full range of exotic and mysterious instruments. “Ars Moriendi,” the fastest track on the album (and also the name of a damn good Mr. Bungle song), comes off like a Crusades-era siege, with eerie, siren-song vocals and whirling dervish strings over meaty, thrashy riffs. The closing minutes of “Son of Perdition,” (which starts as a chest-pounding, Viking hoo-ah war-anthem) blare with clean female vocals, dancing strings and a bubbling sitar before erupting to more guitars and symphonics. When the triumphant female vocals reprise over the thunder, the layered, soaring chaos makes for a memorable moment. And closing epic “Misterium Babel” breaks out flutes, zithers and a lot of other instruments I can’t identify. It also largely forgoes the rougher vocals for a more subdued, melodious male clean vocal, and gets closer to an authentic, exotic Dead Can Dance mood than Therion was ever able to manage.

Now, it may sound as if this is the second coming of symphonic extreme metal, but sadly, it isn’t so. And it’s the same thing that chased me away seven years ago – the death vocals. I just don’t think they’re grand or dangerous enough – they’re slightly more expressive than Samael, who I think also suffers from a dispassive delivery, and it seems to me that this kind of excess needs something bigger. It could be that I’m just used to this kind of bombast with black metal vocals, and the more monotonous delivery of your classic death growl just doesn’t carry the same kind of intensity. Then again, Septic Flesh pulled it off just fine on Communion, so maybe it’s just that I don’t like Hollenthon‘s vocals all that much.

Ultimately, I think I’m left with the same impression of Hollenthon as I was seven years ago. Great symphonic atmosphere, some cool moments and an impressive ambition. However, too much of it repeats the same old tricks, and instead of conquering new territory, it just seems content to settle there.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
August 9th, 2008


  1. Commented by: Erik Thomas

    This is a bit of a let down from With Vilest Wormd. “The Calm Before the Storm” is one of my fave songs ever

  2. Commented by: Apollyon

    Yup. Not sure what would have been required to make up for seven years of waiting, but yeah, a slight disappointment to say the least. Most of all, it seemed almost too traditional within the genre. The last few songs are killer though.

    I hope this album brushed all the dust from their shoulders and they won’t take seven years to make another album; hopefully the masterpiece most of us expected.

  3. Commented by: Dimaension X

    I like this one better – much less of a Therion clone, it has more of it’s own sound and is less derivative of the genre. More definitive.

    “With Vilest…” is a great album, and this is small step ahead.

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