AZURE
"King of Stars - Bearer of Dark"

(Pulverised/Deathgasm)

01. Greeting Chaos
02. Dead Men's Shadow Flickering
03. The Lake of Death (Magnion)
04. Whispers of Echoes Passed
05. Selene - The Spirit
06. Shadows in Midark
07. The Storm (Hill of Heimad)
08. King of Stars - Bearer of Dark

RATING: 7.5/10

Another year-end release on Singapore's Pulverised Records (Deathgasm in the U.S.), it would be a shame if this one escaped notice and fell through the cracks. If you're like me, you looked askance at label advertisements describing the band as "Swedish fantasy black metal". As it turns out, "King of Stars – Bearer of Dark" is clearly rooted in a black metal, but incorporates folky (some might say "Viking") rhythms and vocal parts, bits of piano, and arrangements that are as ripping as they are full of grandness and vigor. Of course, it is largely in the lyrical content from which the fantasy element is derived. Mixing folk and black metal is not exactly groundbreaking these days, but that in no way means that "King of Stars – Bearer of Dark" is anything less than intriguing in its musical journeys. That two men (vocalist/guitarist Robban Kanto and drummer/keyboardist/vocalist Mattias Holmgren) created it is impressive. Guests Nils Norberg (NOCTURNAL RITES) and Ronnie Bjornstrom (EMBRACING) add guitar solos as well.

Sandwiched between the one-minute-and-nine-second frantic and speeding "Greeting Chaos" and the acoustic guitars and keys of the majestic, album-closing title track is a rich tapestry of scraping black metal guitars, anguished shrieks, Viking marches, triumphant gallops, sparkling piano and acoustic accents. When the straight ahead, mid-tempo black metal rip is joined by clean vocals and piano (done most competently on "The Lake of Death [Magnion]"), the result is charming, even powerful at times. "Shadows in Midark" features some particularly entrancing piano and a classy guitar-lead as well, while the winding guitar solo on "Dead Men's Shadow Flickering" is graceful and searing at once. The synth-produced strings on songs like "Selene – the Spirit" never overpower and provide just the right amount of depth.

I would not go so far as to say that "King of Stars – Bearer of Dark" reaches masterpiece heights, but it is a finely crafted affair nevertheless. For those that only dabble in the expanded segment of the black metal spectrum, the album is a nice change of pace and an interesting listen.

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