Mare Nostrum

With the first martial drumbeats and solemn horns of the opening title track, it seems as if Italian melodic black metal act Stormlord have taken this, their fourth album, back to the epic battle-hymns of their early work. And indeed they have, as the song crests into a seagoing epic worthy of Moonsorrow. Rousing melodies are pitted against blasting passages and evoke a stormy journey of crashing waves and thundercracked skies. By the time the track slows to a soaring elegy of angelic choirs, it’s clear that Stormlord has developed a tighter sense of composition and flow than we’ve heard to date from them. Mare Nostrum is off on a triumphant note.

I expected the seafaring theme to continue with “Neon Karma”, but instead we get a digression into modern-sounding melodeath, complete with electronic touches and shouted gang-vocals that recall both Soilwork and Children of Bodom. (There’s even a section of clean vocals that sounds surprisingly like Dan Swano, but it’s not him.) It’s a fine track, if not somewhat familiar, but it seems to be out of place given what’s to come next.

On “Legacy of the Snake”, Stormlord returns to more atmospheric, evocative work, as if the battleship of Mare Nostrum (‘Our Sea’, from ancient Roman times) is heading east towards foreign waters. A sitar and strings combo announces the band’s arrival on the mysterious Eastern shores of the Mediterranean, and it’s here that they stay for the core of the album. The Eastern thing has started to become a little tired of late (totally legit when Orphaned Land and Melechesh started doing it, a bit cliché by the time Behemoth and Belphegor jumped on), but Stormlord makes it sound invigorating once again. Each track whips into a screaming black metal sandstorm set against dancing sitars, majestic female choirs and romantic, sweeping orchestration. Let’s put it this way – it’s the best Therion album I’ve heard in years.

Actually, if I had to make a strong band comparison here, Stormlord has become the black metal Bizzarro World version of Symphony X – specifically their resplendent V: The Grand Design. Mare Nostrum offers a similar blend of gorgeous melodies and urgent momentum, but all done with screaming fury rather than soaring clean vocals or power-metal bravado.

When we begin “And the Wind Shall Scream My Name,” the fiercer, Viking-ish (though not specifically Viking) cues have returned, signaling the ship’s voyage away from the desert kingdoms. “Neon Karma” aside, it’s a complete journey, and concept album or not, it’s a treatment I don’t think I’ve seen before. (Perhaps on the next album they’ll steer the warship towards another culture to clash against – Asia, perhaps, or darkest Africa. You could run with this concept for awhile.) Best of all, there’s not a bad song on here. Of course, it all depends on your taste for heavily symphonic, melodic black metal, but nothing here set off my cheese-o-meter and I found the entire experience to be well-executed and captivating.

If your definition of black metal is wide enough to include Bal-Sagoth, Dimmu Borgir and Anorexia Nervosa as well as Leviathan, Horna and Gorgoroth, you’d do well to check out Mare Nostrum. One of my favorite releases of the year so far.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
May 27th, 2008


  1. Commented by: Erik Thomas

    Defintely seems these guys are back to the more epic over the top orchestral stuff. Also a hint of Viking in there. Good stuff. yeah those clean vox are very Swano sounding.

  2. Commented by: swampthang

    good disc stormlord is sick, but ummm i kno it ain’t for this review but is one you guys gun review new Funeral Pyre album cuz its insane. just wondering

  3. Commented by: gabaghoul

    doh it’s V: The Grand Design, not Grand Odyssey. well you guys get the point.

  4. Commented by: Erik Thomas

    Yeah Swampthing-well be doing the Funeral Pyre-Prosthetic always sends us stuff

  5. Commented by: Staylow

    Great review – you should get paid to write shit that good.

  6. Commented by: Staylow

    Almost forgot – I like very, very little black metal, but this sounds interesting – I’ll have to check it out.

  7. Commented by: gabaghoul

    wow thanks man. compliments are payment enough.

    lemme know what you think of the album when you get to hear it.

  8. Commented by: Staylow

    This is pretty damn good – just two listens through as of now, but it’s left a good impression. Certainly not typical black metal, or at least of what I’ve heard – never been much into it, but this is solid.

  9. Commented by: Redstar

    Fantastic review. I would have skipped over this record with a Power-metal name like “Stormlord”, but I have been digging this record since I’ve heard it. Great stuff here. Easy top ten for the year so far.

  10. Commented by: gabaghoul

    glad you agree – I found it much better than the last one (Gorgon Cult), which had too much goopy gothic/black silliness – this is meaner and far less dopey

  11. Commented by: ceno

    Excellent job, from both gabaghoul and stormlord. Never heard these guys before, but I think it’s just a matter of time since I’m loving this album more and more with every new spin. I quite agree on the Symphony X comparison. I would also add some Kamelot reference here. Btw, I like that moment with Swano-like vocals on Neon Karma.

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