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Atlantis Ascendant - Bal Sagoth
Member Name: Jarisleif
Atlantis Ascendant - Bal Sagoth
Advantages: Excellent story with great riffs
Disadvantages: Production isn't brilliant
"Atlantis Ascendant" is UK black metal band Bal-Sagoth's 5th studio album, released in 2001 on Nuclear Blast and produced by the band with Robert Magoolagan. The line-up for the album was Byron Roberts (vocals), Chris Maulding (guitar), Mark Greenwell (bass), Dave Mackintosh (drums) and Jonny Maulding (keyboards).
This was the band's last album with DragonForce's Dave Mackintosh on drums and is a concept album based on the adventures of a fictitious adventurer and archaeologist called Professor Caleb Blackthorne III, and, as with the band's previous albums, it is heavily influenced by the works of American author, H. P. Lovecraft.
"The Epsilon Exordium" begins the album and the only thing you have to imagine is watching the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, and how the backing music would be when Sam and Frodo are off out on a journey. It's an orchestral piece which is heavily focussed on keyboards, giving the listener a sense of calm before the impending black metal storm that awaits from here on in.
The title song, "Atlantis Ascendant", starts out with narrative telling the listener about the nation of Atlantis, which existed long before. It then sets out at a furious pace with relentless double bass on the drums and typical black metal guitars. The highlight is the mix between spoken voice and screaming vocals, as the story unfolds. The song is about how the Atlanteans are told via religion that they are mighty warriors who conquer all and how it was written in the stars. There is a darker side to that, however, as something lurks, a powerful evil which stands in their way.
"Draconic Albionensis" continues the epic adventure of the Atlanteans as the Dragon Lords do battle in the skies above as the people below watch on in horror and trepidation. Throughout the song, the dragons battle, and it's clear that by the end there is a victor, and that is the Dragon King. The song is held firm with a strong drum beat from Mackintosh but I can't help but feel it sort of loses its way a little. There is an almost orchestral time change halfway through which I can only imagine heightens the sense that the battle is raging and the people can only watch in what feels like slow motion. It does get going after that, and the crashing of the cymbals make it sound like steel on steel as swords clash.
"Star-Maps of the Ancient Cosmographers" centres around the Great Eye in the Universe and how it now gazes down upon the Atlanteans and all that battles within. The Great Eye is telling the people that it alone will carry the burden of what's been done. There's a different mix of music on this song, with synthesizers playing an important part, and with the guitars they almost drown out the vocals. Maybe that's something which could have been fixed in the production phase of things, but as it is, it barely works.
"The Ghosts of Angkor Wat" is an instrumental filler for the album with an almost Pink Floyd sounding haunting melody of what could be perceived as someone in a dream-like state, wondering where they are. I am not sure why it's in there, but I suspect it's there to split the album into two parts, or maybe even to split the story into before the battle and after.
The epically titled "Cry Havoc for Glory, and the Annihilation of the Titans of Chaos (the Splendour of a Thousand Swords Gleaming Beneath the Blazon of the Hyperborean Empire, Part III)" begins with a sombre mood and a guitar riff that is full of sadness, set to a slow tempo. The story continues with the sun rising over the battlefield which is strewn with bodies of the fallen. It then gives focus to two characters, Lord Angsaar (who is now free from his captivity) and The King who defies him, both taunting one another with victory chants and talk of the final battle is constant. The King then calls upon the Warriors of Hyperborea to help him in his quest to rid of Lord Angsaar and his minions. While all this is going on, the music takes a back seat almost, which is a bit of a shame because it sounds good when you realise it's there. There's some really heavy riffs and devastating drumming on this song, but it's come down to that production problem again. Maybe that was intended, but I don't think it was.
"The Dreamer in the Catacombs of Ur" is a sinister song, where, for one of the only times on the album, the music takes centre stage. Chris Maulding's guitar work is furious and, backed by his brother Jonny's keyboards, the song continues the story, this time a scene between Doctor Ignatius Stone and the Keeper of the Ancient Lore of Ur. The Doctor is trying to tell the Keeper that he only sought out knowledge but was persecuted for that and only found hell, while the Keeper tells him that he'll be trapped here for the rest of his days and his screams will be heard all across the land.
"In Search of the Lost Cities of Antarctica" changes direction, as an explorer searches for Antartctica of which he eventually discovers. The spirits of Antarctica whisper to him about how they came about and how one day they will return and seek revenge on those that destroyed them. The song starts off slow but eventually whips up a frenzy of great riffs and spoken word. It's my favourite song on the album, but I think that's because of the lyrics more than anything. The Gods are angry, and they will hunt down anyone who stood against them.
Although it is the penultimate song on the album, "The Chronicles of Shadows" has that air of being the last of the bunch, because it's the last with guitars and vocals. It's one of the fastest, musically, with frenzied drumming, accompanied by screaming vocals and classic black metal riffs. The story carries on with the Imperator of the Night relating on the things he's done and as he lays in exhaustion after his rampage, he once again calls to the moon that guided him and asks him why this had to be done.
"Six Keys to the Onyx Pyramid" is the final song on the album, and another instrumental which wonderfully closes the story out with an air of mystery. What happened in the battle? How did it all end up? You'll have to wait for the next album to find that out.
In summary, while some fans of the black metal genre will say this album isn't really black metal, I'd say listen again, because it's better than a lot of black metal albums out there. The story, while hard to follow, is excellent and the music is cleverly set to it. It may not be one of my all-time favourite albums, but I still listen to the odd song here and there.
1. The Epsilon Exordium
2. Atlantis Ascendant
3. Draconis Albionensis
4. Star-Maps of the Ancient Cosmographers
5. The Ghosts of Angkor Wat
6. Cry Havoc for Glory, and the Annihilation of the Titans of Chaos (the Splendour of a Thousand Swords Gleaming Beneath the Blazon of the Hyperborean Empire: Part III)
7. The Dreamer in the Catacombs of Ur
8. In Search of the Lost Cities of Antarctica
9. The Chronicle of Shadows
10. Six Keys to the Onyx Pyramid
My rating: 7/10
Summary: It's a good album, but could have been better.