It’s been three years since I’ve become acquainted with AETERNAM and they quickly became one of my top bands, so naturally, “Al Qassam” has really been one of the albums I had the highest hopes for this year. With their last release, “Ruins of Empires,” which came out in 2017, being one of my favorite albums possibly ever, the band certainly has set the bar high. After the chat we had with band vocalist Achraf Loudiy, which you can read here, let’s now delve into the album and see if the Canadian melodic/symphonic death metal band has maintained its quality.
The release opens with the titular track, “Al Qassam,” which is a great prelude for the album, creating a setting in a secluded Morrocan market. It gives the listener the feeling of a nefarious ritual of dark magic summoning an ancient livid deity. The lyrics itself are borrowed from an actual incantation, further immersing you into the Arabic world.
The drum-driven rhythms continue into the second song, “The Bringer of Rain” (which I can’t say without singing it to the melody of BATTLE BEAST‘s “Bringer of Pain,” sorry). The track, however, is exquisitely balanced with the rageful opening that turns into a highly catchy chorus and an absolutely beautiful part with clean vocals. A special mention goes to the brilliant production value here as well. The middle part of the song has a short monologue from the gladiator, backed only by folky Arabic sounds, which give an insight into what EX DEO would sound if Maurizio Iacono‘s roots originated from the southern side of the Mediterranean.
Onto the second single of the album, “Lunar Ceremony,” the song that really changes the mood of the album thus far. It’s a much softer track that gives off a feeling of longing and some sort of magical romance; what exactly that means, I don’t know, but it’s a good thing, as all good feelings should be complex beyond explanation. Musically, the piece is a bit more progressive than what AETERNAM usually offers and could be likened to Tunisian progressive metal band MYRATH.
Every good album must, of course, have a sex song (or 12 sex songs if you’re Till Lindemann, probably). “Ithyphallic Spirits of Procreation” picks up the pace again, albeit starting slowly with a nice acoustic folky part for about thirty seconds. If you’re wondering what “ithyphallic” – so did I. Turns out, it refers to a statue with an erection, which is no doubt a lovely mental image. The song is, again, very much driven by drumming whilst retaining a sort of primal feeling, mainly due to Achraf Loudiy‘s harsh vocal style, which is often rather raw-sounding. It also features some lyrics in what I believe is Coptic, the language of ancient Egypt, which I can only assume is some sort of a sexual spell to make the statues of deities erect.
The album’s guest star, Kobi Farhi of ORPHANED LAND, plays a big part on the next song, “Palmyra Scriptures,” and the song genuinely has a very ORPHANED LAND feel, but also a clear AETERNAM touch, reminiscent of soft acoustic songs from previous albums, such as “Nightfall on Numidia.” It’s a lovely, soft, enchanting ballad that somehow feels like nothing special, while simultaneously instilling itself into your brain, and you will find yourself humming along even though three of the four verses are in Arabic.
“Hanan Pacha” is the only song on the album written completely and arranged by the band’s drummer, Antoine Guertin, and the peculiar thing about it is that it gives me a slight hint of IN MOURNING, mainly after the first verse (and I love IN MOURNING). So what I’m saying is, it has a hint of prog, though quite faint. The symphonics in the background work beautifully with the harsh tempo of the six-minute-long track, however, it’s a rather unique sound and can’t really be compared to something like FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE as it is less technical.
If you’ve been following this review closely, you may have noticed that this album takes the listener on a journey throughout the world. So far we’ve been to Rome, the Arabic world, and in the last song, Peru. With “Celestial Plain,” we now move to the far-east, which starts with a distinctly Japanese sound before developing into a fairly classic melodeath song. Honestly, there’s little to be said about this piece; it’s somewhat unremarkable but still an enjoyable AETERNAM song. I’m not crazy about the theme of it either, so it’s a bit of a weak point in the album for me, but I fully expect to warm up to it after several listens throughout the year.
Finally, “Poena Universi” starts with a supremely dramatic opening, which would fit in a film soundtrack about grave-robbing before it turns into pure rage. The title can be translated as “the universe’s punishment” and that’s exactly the feeling it gives, thus making it perfect to close out an album that talks about many gods and religious themes from around the world. It’s one of the most complex pieces AETERNAM has presented us with, but mainly it’s furious, both lyrically and musically. Otherwise, the song has some lovely guitar work as well and then slowly drifts off as the album is finished – a perfect song for live performances, when you want nothing else but wrathful death metal.
This album is quite simply terrific. It’s heavy and furious, yet soft and magical where it needs to be. It’s symphonic, but never at the cost of death metal. It’s thematically fascinating and almost scholarly. It’s also superbly mixed, mastered, and produced. All of this really makes me profoundly dumbfounded that AETERNAM is not more popular or even signed to a big label, although I suspect that “Al Qassam” might be a big help in their final push towards the greater scene of the metal world. For me, this is an early album-of-the-year candidate in what promises to be another year filled with amazing metal.
Written by Didrik Mešiček
- Al Qassam
- The Bringer of Rain
- Lunar Ceremony
- Ithyphallic Spirits of Procreation
- Palmyra Scriptures
- Hanan Pacha
- Celestial Plains
- Poena Universi
Antonie Guertin – drums, percussion
Achraf Loudiy – guitars, vocals
Maxime Boucher – bass
Maxime Legault – guitars
Interview with Vola — “At this point, we just felt like writing something heavy again, more streamlined.”