The solo artist album – a concept that strikes fear in the eyes and causes the blood to run cold in many people, irrespective of genre. A chance for a single lone band member that has ideas above their station; they believe their brilliance is so immense that they must bore people with a solo album, and can’t hear anybody else over the fog horn of their own smugness and ego that’s larger than a Caribbean island. Usually, by a spurned band member that had been kicked out of the band for being a bit of an arse. “Hah, screw you guys – I’m making a solo album!” they bellow with a curt retort, while they wander off into the distance with both middle fingers held aloft. Only to find their solo album has fared that poorly that ‘it went zinc’ in the charts.
Yep, I can’t stand that sort of thing. Joe Satriani, Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai – musical wrongness that is the equivalent of drowning in a sea of cold sick. They’re not lacking in talent – don’t get me wrong – but their particular approach to music strips the whole thing of any form of soul, interest, and fire. To put it simply, a case of music based willy waving. Imagine a master plumber and architect, who has created ‘Gods Bathroom’ – a place so divine and awesome that it redefines the very definition of a bathroom. With tiles made of jade, a super luxury bath with 18 karat gold taps that cascade over a rich marble waterfall into the bath below it. A surround sound system with a 50 inch waterproofed widescreen LCD TV and multimedia Internet system. A toilet bowl and bidet filled with Chanel Number 5 that lights up and projects the contents of the toilet bowl onto the ceiling like a freakish lava lamp at night-time. Perhaps, the most amazing bathroom that you have ever seen in your life, ever – that belongs in a Saudi Arabian prince’s apartment or mansion. It looks awesome, but then the architect and plumber insists that you sit for 12 hours watching a presentation of how he made this bathroom, which is so face meltingly boring that you feel time has stopped or in fact got distorted somehow and actually gone backwards.
This, is precisely what I feel about most solo artist albums. Apart from Mike Oldfield and the late Terje Bakken (who on most of the Windir albums played everything unless they toured), who can do no wrong in my book. Anyway, I digress.
Alexander Paul Blake, to those not in the know – is a German musician that has made albums before under the guise of ‘Eden weint im Grab’ , which roughly translated means ‘Eden weeps in her/its grave’. This time, he has created this album under his own name; ‘Die Rückkehr Ins Goldene Zeitalte’ which Google translate reveals as ‘The Return of the Golden Age’.
Musically, it’s an excellent black metal album full of rich sonic tapestries, soundscapes and variety. Opening track ‘Prolog: Abenddämmerung’ starts with sweeping strings bringing in a sense of tranquil melancholy, which heads into ‘Szene: Walden’; with growled vocals and strident guitar work that reminds me very much of Drudkh, Emperor and Enslaved having a harmonious jam session that is classic atmospheric black metal in the very best sense of the definition interlaced with quiet keyboard passages and a beautiful sense of astonishing melody. ‘Szene: Weltenbrandasche’ continues in a similar manner, and chooses to break it up with a soulful acoustic jam mid-way through the track before tearing back with a dramatic stomp in a manner similar to Dimmu Borgir.
The album chooses to break up any possibility of monotony by choosing to weave the whole thing together with deep and moody interlude tracks, before heading off into a great black metal stomp along. ‘Szene: Naturgeisterschauspiel’ starts with an opening riff that has me thinking of ‘Iron Man’ by Black Sabbath for some odd reason, before heading off into something that sounds like a cleaner hi-fi version of tracks from Burzum‘s ‘Filosofem’ album; adding quieter, brooding acoustic passages into the mix with whispered vocals. ‘Szene: Kosmosmelodie’ starts with slow and doomy pace and proceeds full tit in an Emperor-esque and Satyricon manner, while ‘Szene: Waldkathedrale’ starts off like one of the more keyboard heavy intros to a Dimmu Borgir track before proceeding onward. A dark, piano driven interlude calls for some ‘time out’ in the form of ‘Interlude: Freiheitsprozession’ with a moody Till Lindeman-esque narration before heading head first into the black metal sand blast that is ‘Szene: Wolfsnacht’ that chooses to bludgeon the listener with machine gun drumming and fury. ‘Szene: Transzendenz’ and ‘Szene: Wiedererweckung’ continue in a similar manner to previous tracks with varied sonic passages and bags of musical variety while ‘Epilog: Morgentauidylle’ chooses to close the album with acoustic guitar and moody strings in a calm after the storm.
In short, this guy is pretty much black metal’s answer to Mike Oldfield, in a manner that I perceive Terje Bakken to be. In fact, Alexander Paul Blake makes up for the loss of Terje‘s talent as he’s pretty much on a similar music level of competence and showmanship. Fortunately, I’m glad to report that this album is far from boring and is not a pretentious guitar widdle fest like the artists I have mentioned in this review. The album is a dizzying voyage of atmospheric black metal that is up there with the best of them, and as far as I’m concerned pretty much an essential purchase to those who love extreme metal, and like to get lost in an epic journey of atmospheric black metal.
A strong contender for extreme metal album of the year in my book.