Bal-Sagoth – The Chthonic Chronicles (2006)
Despite not being about the Taiwanese black metal band ChthoniC, Bal-Sagoth’s final album is, at least in some ways, a return to some of the blatant black metal tropes of the band’s early days.It’s certainly more vicious than… for instance, Battle Magic. A few years ago, that was enough to ensure I gave it my full attention, and my appetite for destruction (and to a lesser degree, Destruction) is still enough that The Chthonic Chronicles appeals to me on some level.
The key to understanding this album is that it follows the later Bal-Sagoth formulas almost exactly. What separates The Chthonic Chronicles from its predecessors is its heightened speed and improved guitar distortion more than anything. If you’re familiar with that pattern, you’ll recognize all the band’s pomp and circumstance on full display, although depending on your listening background your ears might need a few moments to adjust to the shift in sound. One downside is that compared to the lighter and softer sounds of previous albums, this new and more aggressive Bal-Sagoth ends up muddier and dynamically flatter, but this is more of a mastering problem than a composition one. For all you’ll see me write about the band’s aggression, there are still many quieter and more restrained moments, including a weird vaguely electronica flavored interlude (“The Fallen Kingdoms of the Abyssal Plain”) towards the middle. This would be where I say it wouldn’t be a Bal-Sagoth album without interludes, but then their debut would complain vociferously. This album also features the same sort of adventurous, melodramatic songwriting (with plenty of trad/power metal influence) that made previous works such a pleasure to listen to – the greater compositional range helps some of these tracks especially shine in what is already a bright discography.
Between the fact that I’ve discussed everything in this band’s studio discography except for Atlantis Ascendant and the relatively steady evolution of their overall sound, I initially began to worry that I had little to say about this album except that it sharpened their aggressive sound. Most of the bands I’ve covered so repeatedly on Invisible Blog evolve more dramatically over their careers. On the other hand, Bal-Sagoth in general has been a consistent fixture of my listening rotations since I first discovered them. They play a substyle I am particularly fond of, and if they have any major slipups, they’re on material I’ve yet to listen to. I’ve mentioned in the past that I sometimes have trouble being objective in these writeups, but this might be the worst example yet.
Highlights: “Six Score and Ten Oblations to A Malefic Avatar”, “The Obsidian Crown Unbound”, “Arcana Antediluvia”