Home > Music > Bal-Sagoth – Starfire Burning Upon the Ice-Veiled Throne of Ultima Thule (1996)

Bal-Sagoth – Starfire Burning Upon the Ice-Veiled Throne of Ultima Thule (1996)

folderStarfire Burning is immediately cleaner and more polished than its predecessor, A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria. In some ways, it’s less aggressive and intense, perhaps as a result of this. Regardless, I believe this is the last Bal-Sagoth album that can credibly be labeled as “black metal”, as from here on out the ‘epic’ elements of the band’s sound is emphasized over their extreme past.

After listening to the band’s debut, I found myself becoming something of a Bal-Sagoth fanboy, because I liked the balance of intricate composition and extreme metal tropes on display. If there’s one thing that Starfire Burning appears to emphasize over other Bal-Sagoth albums, it’s the leads – whether they’re guitar solos or keyboards, they are more prominent than on the debut, while later albums balance them more effectively with the other aspects of the band’s songwriting process. This actually significantly changes the sonic profile of the album, spreading it over more octaves than it otherwise would have been and preventing it from being a retread of the debut.

The other main expansion from the debut to this album is the amount of text it has. While A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria was long-winded at the best of times, the supplemental materials for this album include page after page of densely written, florid prose. Most of it is not recited (or snarled) on the album, remaining bookbound for those who wish to seek it out. This trend would continue for the rest of the band’s discography (although Atlantis Ascendant‘s lyrics supplement was initially online-only, as far as I know). The key point here is that the band engages in a great deal of world building, mashing together fantasy, sci-fi, pulp adventure, elder gods, and a bit of the Marvel Universe for good measure.  As a result, songs throughout the band’s albums often follow these narrative threads, although I haven’t noticed all that many musical similarities between songs within specific narrative sequences. It seems like an opportunity the band could’ve taken advantage of if they hadn’t basically dissolved into nothingness in the later half of the 2000s.

As the result of all this codification of their sound, Bal-Sagoth is more memorable and coherent on this album than they would be for some time; arguably the next peak after this is their 1999 album The Power Cosmic, which reaches the levels it does primarily by conceptual consistency (even though the album’s narrative does not substantially bind the songs on the album). By then, the band had basically softened to their maximum extent – to be fair, while the difference in extremity between the debut and this album is significant, the difference between Starfire Burning and the next few albums in Bal-Sagoth’s discography is substantially smaller. Still, this album works as a sort of black/epic power metal fusion, and even if that’s not the best term for it, it’s probably better than bands actually labeled thusly, like Demoniac.

Highlights: “As The Vortex Illumines The Crystalline Walls of Kor-Avul-Thaa”, “Starfire Burning Upon The Ice-Veiled Throne Of Ultima Thule”, “Summoning The Guardians Of The Astral Gate”

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