Guttural incantations beneath a rumbling, ominous din mark the beginning of Archaic Winter’s debut album, ‘Esoteric Doors.’ “A Spell From The Underworld”is a fitting introduction for the duo’s brand of Black Metal: their style is reminiscent of early 90’s albums by Satyricon and Emperor, but without all the keyboards. To have a choir or some kind of synthetic string section drawing attention away from these high quality guitar riffs would frankly ruin everything.
The opening, dissonant chords of “Left Hand Path” give off a sinister vibe that sets the tone for the entire album. “L.H.P.” starts as mid-tempo Heavy Metal before the blast-beats come in and vocalist Luis Landeo’s Beherit-inspired growls and tortured rasp echoes through the speaker. His tales of black magic and pacts with dark masters perfectly compliment the furious, metallic assault created by Greg Maupin. In fact, this album would be a great starting point for anyone interested in further investigating what is arguably Heavy Metal’s most ridiculed sub-genre.
What this band (thankfully) lacks in corpse-paint and spiky costumes, they more than make up for in excellent riffing and vocals that would definitely terrify your neighbors. The production value has been stepped-up significantly since their previous demo, ‘Demon,’ contributing greatly to ‘Esoteric Door’s’ overall intensity. As a whole, this album is unrepentant in it’s ferocity, but it occasionally slows down just enough to emphasize the power of the next burst of heaviness. The idea of a guitar riff that sounds both catchy and evil may strike some as odd, but the album’s mid-point track “Revelations In Her Dark Mind” features exactly that.
It’s a great example of what I found to be appealing about well done Black Metal in the first place. Where many bands will constantly tremolo pick while the drummer pounds away incessantly on the snare drum, Archaic Winter uses these tactics sparingly. At times there is a certain musicality that is lost on many of the bands who took Darkthrone’s early production style and dirtied it up even more in the name of creating a “dark atmosphere”. The dark, foreboding tone of this release comes from the musicians themselves, not an overdriven four track recorder.
The rhythmic, chugging riff featured towards the end of the album’s title track could quite possibly fit right into the mid-section of an 80’s Thrash Metal song. The inspiration to vigorously bang your head continues into the final song, “I Am The New Antichrist,” which sounds as dark and wicked as it’s name suggests. Its mid-tempo riffing and sparse use of blast-beats is precisely what makes Archaic Winter stand out. There is an obvious focus on creating a dynamic and intense Heavy Metal song first and foremost. What makes many Black Metal bands fall flat is their apparent focus on seeing how close they can get to mimicking early Burzum without being an obvious rip-off. Taking a more diverse approach toward songwriting rarely results in something uninteresting when handled by musicians worth their salt.
Rarely do I find Black Metal that makes me, as a guitarist, perk up at the notice of a skillful and downright tasty riff, but this album is full of them. The well-crafted musical compositions here are the star of the show, with Landeo’s vocals running a very close second. His performance may make or break this album for any listener not familiar with this style, but his delivery is on par with many of the sub-genre’s most notable vocalists.