Third record from one man metal machine Artist of War. This might be his most well thought-out record so far. Every song feels calculated and the album as a whole takes on a great vibe of straight up death metal rather than the heavily conceptualized progressive metal that pervaded his last two. Love the vocals on this record. Brad Olsen, the artists who channels the various beings that create this music (The Dragon, Dynamo, and Skullcrusher) does an excellent job with his death metal vocals on this one, and manages to keep control over his often unruly high-range vocal talents.
As with most of AOW's previous work, the guitar here is the real focal point. Crushing riffs drive most of the songs here, beginning with the impressively doomy openers Gemini and Ultra Soul.
Gemini seems to take the perspective of some great villain whose actions have ended the world. While there is mostly satisfaction in the voice of the observer, some remorse can be felt for the chaos that has sheared away the peace of the earth.
Ultra Soul is pure hallucinogenic doom metal with lyrics that reminisce on past triumphs and describe a haunting cosmic vision of transcendence. Similar to Gemini in tone and vocal quality, these two are great openers to this record.
Tyrannic takes a slightly softer tone from the outset with cleaner vocals and riffs that recall an embattled countryside with the smell of smoke and death in the wind. The drums are really restrained here and really match the music. This song just plods along evenly, eventually lifting up a juicy little solo section.
If this album had a hit single, it would probably be the gut-wrenching Beyond Perdition. The main riff on this song is infectious and Olsen does a great job balancing his higher pitched vocals. The story unfolding in this tune is a contemplative one. Political could be thrown around to describe this song but its a bit more tempered. There is an overarching hostility to the concepts being confronted here yet a sadness for the inability to change things.
Dutch is a strange one... Not sure I can really wrap my head around what it's about but given its reference to the (third?) reich and ice sweeping the plains I'd say it had something to do with warfare in northern Europe. However things are never so simple in an AOW song. There is still plenty of psychedelic imagery thrown around here (Miracles beaming out an angel's dick!?!) that really makes this song a joy to experience. Once again, stronger-than-previous high-range vocals on this song and some really aggressive shrill screams. The drumming/rhythm fluctuations on this track are pretty cool. As with most of the songs on this album the riffs may appear repetitive but there is enough substance in the lyrics and the arrangements to drive it to a strong peak accented by a shivering guitar solo and then a blistering march into the cold sweeps of some blood stained valley.
Black Dragon is another highlight of the album, and the only instrumental track to be found. A decidedly post-rock guitar intro gets this one started before hitting the doom/drone button. The beast rises from its brine-encrusted slumber, slowly shaking the ancient sand from its eyes, and turns its glimmering oblivion gaze on you...
The album closer, Voracious Foe, finds AOW returning to the death metal vibe set up by the openers. This track is brutal and much faster paced than the rest of the album, lending it some of the holdover element of AOW's previous albums. This track really works as a closer, picking up a brutal, challenging pace that rides out from around the 5 minute mark and yields only once its enemies have been trampled under hoof. The drumming is really solid here and really shows off Olsen's talent as a multi-instrumentalist.
This album as a whole shows some welcome growth in AOW's writing style and really does a lot to make the songs more manageable for a casual listener than previous albums. Aggressively psychedelic, somber and sludgy, brutal and cosmic, Black Dragon is the epic wyrm of forgotten ages, a behemoth hellbent on shedding horrific light upon the earth.