On the face of it, the industry-standard sleeve adorning "Back To Times of Splendor" (ghostly woman staring mournfully across arid landscape) does precious little to prepare you for the stupendously ambitious music that emanates from it.
You also discover that the band is three essentially unknown guys from Germany attempting to piece together black, death, thrash and progressive metal. So before you get a taster of said lush sounds, your cynical side takes over and you visualize gratuitous, badly executed arpeggios and, generally, overblown attempts to convince the listener that they're very clever indeed.
How wrong is it possible to be? Vurtox (vocals, guitars, studio bass), Rajk Bartel (guitars) and Jens Malushka (drums) must be the best kept secrets to come from the metal underground because they give the likes of DIMMU BORGIR the run-around at times with their exceedingly fluid interpretations of long, involved soundscapes from an extreme viewpoint.
Of the six songs herein, two clock in at over fourteen and seventeen minutes (the title track and "The Sleep of Restless Hours", respectively). And they fill these marathon spaces very well, blending haunting violins with excerpts of psychotic black metal screeching, big, brash hard rock riffs and some real off-kilter anti-melodies that usher them into realms beyond typically streamlined prog metal stuff. That said, as "The Sleep of Restless Hours" begins to gradually wind itself down to fade, the true basis of their art fully reveals itself: the guitar interplay turns fully and unapologetically towards the likes of GENESIS, RUSH and MARILLION for inspiration, and if you hadn't already heard their more twisted side, you'd swear that it was one of the aforementioned crusties on good form. Trust us, if that all sounds a bit inoffensive and unfitting, it actually fits like a rather large sonic glove — albeit with razor wire across the knuckles.
It's all about utilizing the atmosphere well with DISILLUSION, which is why the pleasantly strummed acoustic number "A Day By The Lake", by rights, shouldn't cause too much gnashing of teeth amongst extremists. And when they need to come up with something to punch a hole in your chest, they make the most of the moment, especially on opener "And The Mirror Cracked", whose abrasive riffs are embellished with the tastiest licks and layered harmonies.
From musos who are so at ease with their craft, it's almost a given that the production on "…Splendor" should be as flawless as it is. If only they could've then dispensed with the unnecessary and cumbersome faux-blastbeats, and tightened up on the nervous-sounding vocal harmonies, we'd be looking at an unparalleled epic for those from the darker side of the tracks.