Atmospheric black metal has been very strong in the UK in the last decade, with Winterfylleth, Fen and Wodensthrone (now sadly split up) to name just a few of the bands who have spearheaded the movement. Ahamkara are another such band from the scene who managed to slip through the cracks – I only just discovered them and their brilliant sole album 2014’s The Embers of the Stars a few weeks ago, a shame as their singer Steve Black sadly passed away towards the end of last year.
The Embers of the Stars is fairly typical of modern atmospheric black metal, long tracks with a clean production and focus on beautiful melodies. While Ahamkara don’t reinvent the genre they provide a near perfect example here. Each of the four tracks is over ten minutes in length and each is varied. First track Midwinter’s Hymn is exceptional, with a warm production and great songwriting, moving effortlessly from one captivating melody to the next. While this is mostly driven through the sweet guitars, with tremolo picked riffs and arpeggios played high up the fretboard, the shimmering lines of synths which come in at intervals add an extra level when the music reaches its crescendos. The bass is audible throughout, with a warm low end that fits perfectly with the way it’s produced, while the vocals are mostly the same throughout, high pitched raspy screams with slight reverb layered over, low in the mix and fitting in well with the overall sound. The track evolves seamlessly between fast blasting sections with distorted treble weaving a hypnotic atmosphere, and slower sections that focus more on the melodies. There’s no room for lots of repetition, the track constantly evolves and grows. The guitar solo towards the three minute mark is beautiful,slow and enchanting, in what is a magical piece of music.
On the Shores of Defeat is more wistful and melancholic, with more emotion and pain in the vocals, while Lamentation of a Wraith has more of an epic and mysterious vibe to it, even if the keyboards are not played with the finesse of Midwinters Hymn, sounding a little clumsy and out of place. Both are very good tracks in their own right, but the bookends of the album are the best, with closer To Invoke the Stars Themselves being an absolute gem. An interesting intro with synths and light tribal percussion mixed with the sound of a river gives way to another blasting wall of sound with some of the album’s harshest vocals, before slowing down and delivering near enough eight minutes of some of the most mezmerizingly beautiful melodies you’re ever likely to hear in this subgenre, through acoustic guitar, riffcraft, guitar solo and tasteful synth-work.
As previously mentioned this isn’t an album that re-writes the genre, but it’s one of the finest examples of it I’ve heard, and is worth the time of anyone who likes early Wolves in the Throne Room, Woods of Desolation, Wodensthrone and atmospheric black metal in general.
Stream and purchase the album in full below