Experimental black metal will surely have its share of fans, but will be one of those sub-genres many just can’t appreciate. Ambient black metal has a similar issue, and all of this is somewhat funny to think about since most music listeners can’t stomach black metal in general. O, Majestic Winter brings the ambient and experimental black metal with their third release, Eternal Shores: A Spiritual Odyssey.
O, Majestic Winter started in 2008 in the cold, dark, winter wasteland of Tennessee in the US. Black metal has to have those sorts of origins, doesn’t it? Well, ok, Tennessee is far from wintry Scandinavia where black metal rules, but listening to this album, it is clearly black metal. In 2009, the band released Defiling the Serpent’s Temple and then followed that up a few months later with An Autumn Moon. Doing some due diligence, I checked out what others said about these other releases since the band was new to me and I found that reviewer’s either loved or hated them with their mix of ambient and experimental black metal. Of course, some critics focused on the Christian themes as a point of contention, but that’s inevitable in the scene when you’re an openly Christian band in a generally dark scene.
The album itself is almost divided equally between ambient, experimental and softer pieces and the harsh abrasive black metal songs. “Behind the Breathing Sea,” “The Unrest of Peaceful Waters,” Halcyon: A Gale’s Passing,” “To Journey with Focus in One’s Gaze,”, “To Journey with Faith in One’s Spirit,” and “Psalm of the Oceanborn” are primarily the ambient interludes and represent most of the odd-numbered tracks on the album. “Behind the Breathing Sea” opens the album with an atmospheric piece that has some black metal vocals mostly in the background. After the song fades for about a minute, the marching black metal of “To Journey with Hope in One’s Heart” comes in and has one of the strangest riffs that really makes it sound as if there was some sloppy guitar playing. Production quality is rough throughout the album with the cymbals often overpowering everything and drums in general fading into the wall of background noise that is guitars and keyboards. The softer songs are much cleaner in sound quality and do provide not only respite from the black metal chaos but also confer a sense of foreboding at times that can keep the listener on edge.
The black metal songs tend to be somewhat predictable with fast drums when they are audible and the often almost droning guitar riffs that are characteristic of the genre. At times the experimental part comes out like near the 2:30 mark in “Tempest of the Great Owl” where the instruments fade away and the listener is left with the sound of the wind and some chimes that also includes some random thumps and screams before a slow riff and vocals start back after a couple of minutes.
“Halcyon: A Gale’s Passing” brings acoustic guitars and clean vocals into the mix for this softer, interlude track, which is something other reviewers of their previous albums either loved or hated. I will admit songs like these seem a bit out of place compared to the metal songs on the album but that appears to be the intent. “Engora: The Forest in the Sea” shows the band almost veering into doom territory with the slow, sludgy, plodding riff for the first half of the song, but the pace picks up in the second half for a while until the acoustic guitars take over. O, Majestic Winter has no qualms about mixing things up and certainly doesn’t mind straying from the expected, which does set them apart from many of their peers. Unfortunately, the production and mixing really negatively impact the listening experience of the album, and given the nature and complexity of everything that is going on, it really needed to be spot on to avoid losing the listener.
Written by John Jackson
01. Behind The Breathing Sea
02. To Journey With Hope In One’s Heart
03. The Unrest Of Peaceful Waters
04. Tempest Of The Great Owl
05. Halcyon: A Gale’s Passing
06. Engora: The Forest In The Sea
07. To Journey With Focus In One;s Gaze
08. Valdonia: The Vulturous
09. To Journey With Faith In One’s Spirit
10. Psalm Of The Oceanborn
11. Terminus: The Final Deluge
12. Eternal Shores
Mormegil and Gorlim – All instruments and vocals
Record label: Sanctus Gladius Records, April 2015
Video for ‘To Journey with Hope in One’s Heart’