Limbonic Art
Phantasmagoria

Back in the symphonic black heyday of the mid to late 90s, Norway’s Limbonic Art released three albums in a highly pompous, gothic, orchestral style: Moon in the Scorpio, In Abhorrence Dementia and Epitome of Illusions. 1999’s Ad Noctum: Dynasty of Death and its follow-up, The Ultimate Death Worship, switched up the Limbonic Art sound to a more ferocious, blistering attack, with the orchestral grandeur more subdued on both releases. So I was pleased when Legacy of Evil hit in 2007, as it brought that baroque layering more towards the forefront, even if it seemed like fast, guitar-oriented compositions were the band’s permanent focus now.

Phantasmagoria stays with that blazing, hyperspeed direction – it’s 71 minutes of buzzing onslaught and dark gothic melody – but there’s a significant change here. As of 2009, Limbonic Art is now down to a one-man project, as Morfeus has left over “cooperation problems” (according to the band’s website). And that means that most of the baroque symphonics – long the cornerstone of Limbonic Art’s identity – have been suppressed once again, leaving a much more straightforward – but no less epic – black metal sound.

Tracks like “Portal to the Unknown,” “Flight of the Mind’s Eye” and “The Burning Vortex” employ relentless pacing atop demonic atmosphere to nail a powerful, archetypal black metal aesthetic. A few tracks like “Crypt of Bereavement” and “Curse of the Necromancer” use even thrashier riffs as their backbones, while a slow, doomy march like “Dark Winds” is perfectly placed to break up the firestorm. Daemon’s vocals also sound better than ever – the perfect mix of rasp and growl – and his clean, choral vocals, when present, are mixed in with the black to achieve a greater sense of dread and grandeur than Morfeus could ever achieve with his awful caterwauling (seriously, go back and listen to most of In Abhorrence Dementia again – abhorrent is right).

Of course, there’s still orchestration on every track  – wouldn’t be Limbonic Art without it – but it’s thicker, darker, more funereal, with much less of the tinkly keyboards and burbling Danny Elfman-esque whimsy that have been present on every album until now. And it’s a notable improvement. Daemon almost universally uses the keys in one-to-one lockstep with the guitar melodies, and while it’s a simple (albeit repetitive) approach, it does unify the songs a lot more. The orchestration is now part of the song, as opposed to just flourishes and frills. And while there was a time when I was a sucker for that stuff (and done well, with a proper orchestra or a great library of samples, I still am), it all too frequently plays as embarrassing cheese when I hear it now. Even moments of Legacy of Evil, which is otherwise a terrific release, still grate on me with prancy keys or spooky choirs whoo-whoo-whooing up from the background.

There’s still a problem here though, and it’s the same thing that’s plagued almost every Limbonic Art album so far: their songs are just way too long, repetitive and largely interchangeable. I had the album on repeat for several hours while slaughtering Voidwalkers and Razorfangs on the Hellfire Peninsula (if you’re not a WoW geek, it’s an astral warzone that perfectly matches the Limbonic Art mystique), and it was amazing background music. And that says it all. As a longtime fan, it’s frustrating that these songs frequently drop into the background – even when I’m not focused on something else. Had Daemon and Morfeus (or just Daemon now) taken the ambitious, orchestral grandeur of those first few albums and melded it with the newer, speedier sound  to create epic compositions – rather than just always treating the symphonics as a background layer – we might have gotten more interesting and structurally varied songs.

In fact, I think Legacy of Evil has better songwriting overall – crunchier riffs and more breaks and dynamics, even the occasional solo melody rising above the storm – but given what I said earlier about its sometimes goopy orchestration, I think I’ll be playing Phantasmagoria more often. It just sounds completely badass, and while my attention may drift from time to time, at least I won’t wince even once.

As for the future of Limbonic Art, let’s hope that Daemon continues on, either on his own or with new collaborators. And while it may not be fair to expect every band to become more progressive or more complex with age, I’m still hoping that one day we’ll get some truly inspiring compositions from him. (Think Emperor‘s Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk or Blut Aus Nord‘s Memoria Vetusta II, pretty much the pinnacles of the genre for me.) He’s finally nailed the right sound, but I think the Art can still be pushed further.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
September 13th, 2010

Comments

  1. Commented by: Clauricaune

    Music to slaughter voidwalkers and razorfangs. Sounds good, gonna try that.


  2. Commented by: Jodi

    Ooh, WoW reference…now I must hear it


  3. Commented by: Negakinu

    Limbonic Art. I grew up listening to “In Abhorrence Dementia”. For me, it was the Epitome (no pun intended) of orchestral black metal and inspired me significantly during my own musical endeavors. I also believe that album is their best work ever. They never quite recaptured the absurdity (sometimes unintentionally) and otherworldyness that made that album the masterpiece that it is. The “caterwauling” only contributed to that feeling if you ask me. They never quite achieved that on their later releases. Or maybe they did but I couldn’t hear it because of the godawful production of those releases (Dynasty of Death, anyone?).

    Now “Phantasmagoria”, it lacks everything I loved about Limbonic Art. It all sounds sterile, like some guy midi’ed (is that a word?) it all together, humming along to the clicktrack of his copy of Fruityloops. I think age plays a role as well. How old is Daemon now? 30-something right? His lyrics were always pretty interesting in a Lavey-in-space kinda way but now they seems lacklustre and childish. After all these years at least his grammatical skills should’ve improved right? He even exclaims “Alright!” in the beginning of a track. “Alright”!? That’s not cosmic-black-metal-speak! To my observation, there is no progress. It sounds like he’s trying to recapture that feeling of old but ends up sounding desperate. In a bad way. Not good-desperate like all those suicidal black metal guys. Well some of ’em anyway. Right.

    Another thing, the drums! Limbonic used to be about the crazy drumcomputer. They used these insane drumsamples (probably unintentionally as well, there was no Drumkit from Hell/ Addictive Drums back then) that gave them a sound that was utterly unique. It was this barrage of thunder and whips and chains that sounded like it was being played by a cosmic octupus on LSD. Gone! :(

    Thing is, I am disappointed. Limbonic Art used to be way up there with, for example, Emperor, Morgul and Arcturus! They’re not supposed to be mediocre. They’re supposed to suck me into the void and make me buy another one of their godawful tshirts.

    Anyway, nice WoW reference. I hate that game. :)


  4. Commented by: gabaghoul

    great comments and imagery (cosmic octopus = win) – and from a member of Carach Angren no less! makes a lot of sense that you’d be a Limbonic Art fan. ;)


  5. Commented by: Negakinu

    Not a member, just the photographer/artwork designer. I used to play keyboards for years in a band called Inger Indolia. That was before Carach Angren, together with Seregor, their current vocalist. Seregor founded Carach after Inger fell apart due to musical differences. I started drifting more to experimental, electronic and ambient music back then.


  6. Commented by: emperorjvl

    Best thing about the new album is the cover. I disagree wholeheartedly with the reviewer, IAD is still the best album IMO. I NEVER listen to Dynasty, Ad Noctum, or even Legacy.


  7. Commented by: ...

    Negakinu: Where exactly does Daemon exclaims “Alright”? Iv’e heard this album a thousands of times, and never heard it. Also iv’e read the lyrics.

    Also i don’t think he sings about cosmos as much as about the astral plane. You can see it in the last album.

    Daemon grammer is far better then to be expected of a norwegian! I Realized this when i transled his lyrics to my own native language. a lot of the wordes are so rare and old, they were barly translatable.

    I love Phantasmagoria!

    Now to the main review:
    1. I love Morfeuses howles.
    2. I love Phantasmagoria. In order to understande it, you musn’t be distracted by something else. Limbonic Art’s music must sweap you fully, or not take you at all.
    3. What is “burbling Danny Elfman-esque” ?


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