Written by Mass
- Al Qassam
- Symphonic Folk Death Metal
- March 27th, 2020
Emblem of Power and Might
Symphonic Folk Death Metal may seem quite vague and too broad a concept to apply to any musical production. But when it comes to this Quebec-based quartet, it is in every bit expressive of the work of the band. Aeternam’s brand of music is a whole scope of Middle-Eastern/North-African (MENA) folk sounds, a grand symphonic foundation and a ferocious death metal that molds all these elements into one fine alloy poured into a gargantuan cast of awe-striking grandeur.
Al Qassam, literally translated into English as “the vow” or “the oath”, is Aeternam’s fourth studio album in the span of 13 years since their conception in 2007 and shows the band’s trajectory towards perfection. All their previous releases have been met with positive review and there has always been a good deal of optimism regarding this band. In return, they have never disappointed, or rather, they have always topped their game and taken a step forward in their direction. Al Qassam is a notch finer and more refined compared to their Ruins of Empires (2017). With all this progress in their career, what surprises me is how on earth they are still unsigned!
Before we get to the music of the album, let’s take a long pensive moment and appreciate the visual masterpiece of Eliran Kantor which is the cover art of this album. This illustrator is one of the top metal artists of our time and his ideas are innovative, eerie and grand and each album with his art can guarantee visual appeal and assured magnetism. This piece, too, contains said qualities. It depicts a demonic invocation ceremony at the moment of integration of the demon and the human. This scene is also extended and elaborated on in the music video for the title track, resulting in a unity of all mediums (the artwork, the music, and the music video).
Getting to music, the album opens with the title track and right off the bat, the listener is struck down and swept off their feet when stupendous death growls recite Arabic invocation lines to which a speedy guitar riff and ferocious drumming and under which solid symphonics are then added. We are introduced to goblet drum, riq and several other folk instruments which comprise the familiar sound of Aeternam. The Bringer of Rain, then, is a thrash-y, metalcore-y piece, something similar to the sound of Trivium with robust vocal works. On the negative side, the spoken words of Spartacus in the middle of the song is what I would skip. This un-death-metal-like sound, which is by no means a disadvantage but a pushing of musical boundaries, extends into Lunar Ceremony, a track much in the same vein as Orphaned Land and Myrath, with strong folk undertones in the orchestra. Ithyphallic Spirits of Procreation is a blackened death piece which bring to mind Behemoth and keeps its oriental sound all the way till the end, specifically about 3’:15” into the song where there is a break.
One track which might at first sight feel out of place is Palmyra Scriptures as it borders pop folk and contains no metal part, generally oud, goblet drum (or similar folk percussions), riq and strings. However, I believe it is a genuine, emotionally-bursting piece, melodic, poetic and reflecting the band’s more humane side. Kobi Farhi of Orphaned Land has added a touch of flavor to this track too.
Hanan Pacha once again brings forth the blackened death atmosphere, albeit heavily charged with melodies, giving us a taste of melodic black in parts and melodic death in others; the more the song progresses, the stronger and heavier it becomes, particularly what happens after the break is phenomenal. In Celestial Plains, we are tossed from MENA to the far east and into the land of the rising sun. Not just in theme but also in the dominant melody of the song, this track builds upon the sound of its predecessor and succeeds at giving us a slightly new taste of melodic death. Drifting even nearer to the domain of death metal, Aeternam gives us Ascension, a traditional death physique with limbs of symphonic death and deathcore, a very mosh-pit-friendly piece and a live staple for sure. Treading on the heels of this eighth track and closing the album is Poena Universi, opening with a simple symphonic passage, trampled then by a crushing death riff and a growl to culminate the sound of the album. This track is the whole album is a nutshell and includes all the elements present earlier in a unified composition.
The only fault I could find with this magnificent work of metal art is in fact its lyricism. As for the subject matters, a varied spectrum has been selected for this album, ranging from a Japanese deity who is banished from heaven and fights an eight-headed serpent (Celestial Plains) to erect idols of the old (Ithyphallic Spirits of Procreation), from summoning demons (Al Qassam) to praising queen Zenobia of Palmyra (Palmyra Scriptures) or the Inca myths (Hanan Pacha) and several other motifs in between. As for the wording and poeticness, they lack literary devices and mechanics. Moreover, in parts they fall out of meter and are forced into the pace of music. Still overall, these flaws are not the result of inattentiveness and do not amount to much; after all, it is a metal album and many listeners do not even care about the lyrics.
All things considered, Al Qassam is a monumental work and deserves much more praise than it is getting. Aeternam have established themselves very stalwartly within the genre and among fans, yet they are rather under-appreciated and can garner a lot more attention on the side of labels and the industry in general. This album is tightly packed with nine gemstones in less than 45 minutes, without an intro, interlude or outro, meaning there is not one second to this album which is extra or inconsequential. Undoubtedly, Al Qassam goes right to the top five albums of 2020 so far.
Highlights: Al Qassam – Hanan Pacha – Ithyphallic Spirits of Procreation – Poena Universi – Ascension
- Lyrics: 8.0
- Artwork: 10
- Musicianship: 9.5
- Vocals: 9.5
- Overall: 9.2