Saturday, February 3, 2024

A/Oratos - Ecclesia Gnostica (2024)

There's something immediately classicist about French act A/Oratos (not to be confused with the Naas Alchemist project Aoratos), from the sculptured cover imagery to the almost-matching costuming, to the use of Latin and even the musical architecture on exhibit. Dealing heavily with philosophical themes, the vaulted heights and structure of the songwriting here can envelop the listener to stroll the columned halls of antiquity, and it's compositionally intelligent even where it sometimes might fail to stick in the memory. Featuring a few current or former members of countrymen and labelmates Griffon, who themselves have put out some great work in the last few years, Ecclesia Gnostica is both an esoteric and welcoming record thanks to a bold, accessible production standard and a series of peaks and valleys that manifest through its shifts between melodic black metal and acoustics.

The guitars are bright and airy, swathed in a warm but enigmatic chord selection which is often more a consonant than dissonant, tinted with melodies both pensive and nostalgic. They don't exactly embrace an 'evil' aesthetic through the instruments, but the technical performance is impressive enough, with a busy selection of riffs, and a flexible, intense drumming performance that can match every twist in the album's structure. The bass is clean-cut and audible, matching the melodic loops while standing out just enough of its own to increase the robustness. Acoustic guitar sequences are threaded seamlessly throughout bursts of blackened emotion, and there's always a little folkish undercurrent to the flow, and some subtle orchestration through keys, without dipping sandaled toes too far into that direction. Vocally, you get an abrasive rasp, sometimes overloud or monotonous, but complemented by cleaner French chants that help balance it off, almost like spoken word or narration that gives a bit of a ponderous pretense until the band then rolls your face off with a black beast surge.

It definitely feels like an 'Ancient World' spin on the Medieval black metal which is popular with some acts in the French scene...just as involved, textured, and thematically flush with its subject material. The one area Ecclesia Gnostica might lack is in having intensely catchy guitar lines, which would put it over the top...there are literally FLOODs of ideas here, it's a busy work, the component riffs always serving the central, winding aesthetic, but they aren't always molded into earworms. I think the band could better fashion some leads for another layer of atmosphere and complexity. Still, when you take this full-length debut as a whole, it's impressive, it's someone distinct from the band's peers, though I would be very quick to recommend them to fans of Griffon, Aorhlac, Sühnopfer, or especially that great new Pénitence Onirique record Nature morte which recently dropped from the same LADLO imprint this past Fall. Loads of potential, high end production values, a cool niche aesthetic and a maturity beyond their years make A/Oratos worth your time tracking down.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

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