Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Hidden in the Fog - Abstract Maelstrom Paragon (2003) 80/100.

For a debut full-length Hidden In The Fog’s ‘Abstract Maelstrom Paragon’ is a very mature opus. Having said that, it did take me by surprise that this four piece German band have been around since the mid to late 1990’s. Until 2003, the year in which this album was released, the band had a few minor hits with their previous two demos and single EP, but until this effort, the German progressive black metal band in the vein of Emperor never really hit the big time. ‘Damokles’ is probably recognised as their grand magnum opus but, despite its hype, I much prefer the debut. I was advised a number of times by various different people to give this multi-talented band a try and that it would appeal to me. Having listened to both full-lengths in recent times, I’ve come to the conclusion that, although I do like both efforts and appreciate the sheer talent that has gone into making them, that this band probably would have hit the spot harder had I heard them a number of years previous, rather than at this stage where progressive, or symphonic tinted black metal isn’t my cup of tea.

This album definitely looks to mix the two opposing sub-genres of black metal -- those being progressive and symphonic -- together in a way that hasn’t been achieved quite as successfully since the days of Emperor and their album ‘Anthems to the Wilken at Dusk’. I must admit, though Emperor certainly played a part in my current love for the genre that is black metal, like so many others before and after me, I have “grown out” of the delicate, rather mainstream side of black metal that tends to draw people’s attention to the scene in the first place. Bands like Emperor, though appreciated for their innovation, don’t really do it for me anymore. I don’t mind symphonic black metal as such, but when it becomes a fixation of the band to incorporate keyboards into the central theme of the music, then I tend to lose interest. This album, though it can do that at times, is a multi-faceted piece that is driven more by the complexity of the song writing and its various divine qualities rather than an overriding sense of grandiose symphonies.

Although the introductory song feels unnecessary and generic, no other part of this album feels as if it could come under either of those descriptive words. The atmosphere throughout each song is too complex and fascinating to allow boredom to set in. The opening to ‘Nautilus (Swimming Through Oblivion)’ is particularly satisfying when taking into account the superiority of the music. The opening clean voices, with lyrics displayed in English and the wonderful acoustics set Hidden In The Fog apart from Emperor somewhat, though they’re never far from their main influence. The vocals are especially Ihsahn-esque, though much more akin to his earlier career with Emperor, rather than his vocals towards the end of their career on albums like ‘Prometheus - The Discipline of Fire & Demise’. As with that particular Emperor offering, this album, as on songs like ‘Nautilus (Swimming Through Oblivion)’ does offer cleanly spoken vocals, though they’re not an integral part of the song. They come in a layered form on occasions with the typical rasps being played over them and, on other occasions, they’re dominate within the atmosphere, as on the aforementioned song during certain parts.

During these cleaner parts, the instrumentation tends to vary its tempo more and allow the keyboards to have an affect on the atmosphere, though this is always a subtle element and not overblown like on so many symphonic black metal bands. With touches of Emperor and Limbonic Art, it was expected that the Germans would have to have a knack for song writing, which they thankfully do. The complexity of the songs isn’t really an issue. The complex nature of the layering, which features varied drum patterns, riff after riff and some audible bass work (though this side of the band is buried beneath the more important aspects), feels slick, rather than forced. The songs glide from one to another and the general atmosphere flows exceedingly well given the well represented material. The self-titled song once again shows the depth involved in the layering with Emperor-esque riffs (‘Dignity’s Fall’ showing this extremely well), textures and some expansive drumming. The keyboards are also subtly involved, though not too subtle that they’re unnoticeable during their parts.

The clean harmonised singing is a nice touch, though it doesn’t feel too important given the generally mid to fast paced tempo and depth in the songs. The harsh vocals are suitably placed as a priority and rightfully so. The atmosphere has a very second wave feel to it, conjuring all the typical images of mysterious empires, grand battles, mythological creatures and thrones built of ice. There is a rather typical quality to the album, but it doesn’t make it any less enjoyable due to the fact that it’s so well written and contains enough melody, distinctive qualities and creativity through dynamism. Even the unusual samples of some form of bird squawking during the self-titled song seem well placed because it conveys images of soaring and rising up, just as the melodies and talent do from within the songs. ‘Damokles’ is generally considered the stronger of the two, but I appreciate this album more for its maturity and the melodies provided throughout each of the four songs -- not including the introduction.

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