Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Midnight Odyssey - Funerals from the Astral Sphere (2011)

Midnight Odyssey's demo-gone-debut album Firmament was easily one of my favorite black metal releases of the 21st century to date, a wonderful expose of spacious, cosmic aesthetics given tangible flesh in the form of atmospheric, mesmeric riffing patterns dominating a solid foundation and more grandiose synthesizer than a marathon of 80s one-hit wonder episodes. But more importantly, it was enviably damned consistent, a full-on balance of darkness and beauty that transcended the relative simplicity of its concepts, arks, titles and lyrics. About the only thing wrong with that album was its original, gaudy cover art, a crime to its musical content, and a crime that has been repeated once more for the follow-up. Hopefully this will change with a subsequent release. Don't you worry though, because Midnight Odyssey is a band well worth listening to blind, or blinded by distant nebulae and an infinite void of questions.

Dis Pater has returned from his subterranean side-trek to The Crevices Below, back to the span of stars which crowded his vision a few years ago, and surprisingly with enough material in tow to cover two entire discs! Funerals from the Astral Sphere is approximately 125 minutes wide, an ambitious project for an act so young, but also running the age old risk of courting an excess of filler material. Thankfully, there is very little of such. Midnight Odyssey has the distinct ability to envelop the listener in the most simple of compositions, but he's made sure to diversify the album's roster of 16 songs, even further than Firmament. Cleaner vocals take up more of a priority here than in the past, alternated with Dis' Burzum-like, tortured rasping and often layered against itself to provide a longing, soaring choir ("Journey Across the Stars" and "Lost" being just a few of these). The synthesizers are again omnipresent, but one will note that a good fraction of the tracks here are not metal at all ("Lost", "Shores Serene"), but epic swells of shoegazer-pop rooted heavily in 80s pad tones that recall Vangelis (particularly his score for Blade Runner), Tangerine Dream and even more mainstream 80s fare (like the full bodied keys used in Berlin's great "Take My Breath Away").

But fear not, Dis Pater has not abandoned his niche audience to become the next Peter Gabriel, and there are plenty of potent, eloquent black-fueled pieces here, some of which are the most catchy on the album. Personal favorites included "From a Celestial Throne", and its damn sticky progression of chords, "Silently in Shadow", which is beyond glorious; or "Tears of Starfire", a near 10 minute colossus that runs the range which blends the vocal styles with a lot of double-bass; an incessant smear of the otherworldly, like the last sounds you'd hear internally if you were adrift in space and your oxygen supply ran out. But even the less immediately memorable structures sink themselves in after a few listens, and thus pieces like the title track have their places. What's more, despite the enormous length of the album, even the weightier, 12+ minute tracks stand out ("Those Who Linger at Night", "Fallen from the Firmanent").

Are there moments of filler, where the attention slips from the ponderous atmosphere? I'd say yes, if you're not surrounding yourself with the appropriate listening environment. Seriously, as cheesy as it might sound, try and experience this either still on some hillside gazing upon the openness, or even afloat on a rowboat or canoe, when you've got two hours to kill. Take it all in, and remain patient. Aside from the obvious textures and layers, there is not much subtlety to the album. It shimmers directly into your conscience, the heavily distorted guitars and keys immediately engaging your emotional center. But there's just so damned much of it, the attention span is unlikely to hold forever. Thankfully, even if you cut this into halves of quarters, the songs are relatively consistent. It doesn't have that same sense of exultation and surprise as the debut, since those who enjoyed Firmament will know quite what to expect. It also doesn't have that same precise flow to it. But nevertheless, Funerals from the Astral Sphere is another glorious and engrossing median between star-stuff and obscurity.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]


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