Germany’s Atlantean Kodex dropped its third album and it’s stunning. Here’s our review.
If 2010’s debut The Golden Bough was still a little rough around the edges, Atlantean Kodex’s sophomore album The White Goddess (2013) was a showcase in how to do epic heavy metal right, with a suitably doomy approach to power metal, creating a masterpiece in the genre which would always have been hard to follow up. It took them six entire years (not counting 2017’s excellent live album The Annihilation of Bavaria) to try and top that album and I’ll be damned if they haven’t succeeded in doing so. Let’s take a closer look.
Clocking in a little over an hour, The Course of Empire, Bavarian epic metallers Atlantean Kodex’ third album and the first in six long years should feel overlong. Somehow it doesn’t, and it’s testament to the vastly impressive songwriting skills these guys (and girl, with Coralie Baier replacing Michael Koch on guitar duties) exhibit. With half the songs running well over the eight minute mark, things could get dangerously boring here, but there is always more than enough going on to keep things lively and interesting. The fact that the band piles layers upon layers of epicness all over the album as if it’s nothing also helps a great deal. You only have to take a look at the epic nine-minute opening track People of the Moon to see exactly what you’re in for. It’s a huge sounding song (and I really mean HUGE) full of great riffs and tempo changes, with vocals delivered with just the appropriate amount of pathos not to become silly. Atlantean Kodex absolutely nails this sort of stuff and seem to bask in their ability to make things as gloriously epic as humanly possible.
By now, we’re only ten minutes into The Course of Empire. Let that sink in for a bit. There’s still roughly fifty minutes left and you’re already left gasping for breath after that opening track. I’m not going to state here that things get better, because you can hardly top an opener like that (the same was the case with opening track Sol Invictus from the previous album; you can’t beat a perfect opener), but somehow Atlantean Kodex manages to maintain the ridiculously high quality throughout the rest of the record. The Course of Empire is, however, a more dynamic album than The White Goddess when it comes to variety in songs. At its core, Atlantean Kodex’ music is of course straight-up old-school Manowar and viking-era Bathory worship with a good helping of doom, but this third album offers more when it comes to the subtle details. At the musical base you’ll still find big, chunky riffs and twin guitars, but things are spiced up by subtle keyboards adding to the grandeur of the soundscape. Markus Becker sounds a lot more confident as a vocalist on The Course of Empire, showcasing a bigger range than before and sounding bigger than ever when hist vocal tracks are layered.
When it comes to the songs themselves, The Course of Empire adheres to the same template as both albums before it, alternating between the big, sprawling tracks and smaller, more intimate pieces and interludes. This works absolutely splendid, giving the listener some respite after the larger, more complex tracks. Chariots, for example, offers such a wealth of riffs, ideas and tempo changes that it ends as a completely different song than it started out as. To follow that up with the reserved The Innermost Light with its humming men’s choirs and marching rhythm is a joy, and you need those three-and-a-half minutes to catch your breath before the band unleashed the impressive A Secret Byzantium. The same goes for Spell of the Western Sea, a small acoustic interlude where the sound of crashing waves and seagulls deftly set the stage for the epics metal barrage that is The Course of Empire, the larger-than-life album closer that once again requires all your attention before Die Welt von Gestern finally brings things to a close.
Atlantean Kodex is not the most technical band in the world. Don’t expect flashy guitar solos left and right. Don’t expect a vocalist that outclasses all your favourites out there. There’s none of that on The Course of Empire. What the band lacks in terms of technique and finesse however, is sheer songwriting chops. They can take two or three musical ideas and run with it for ten minutes and make it fucking interesting too, and that takes talent and skill. I for one never dreamt this band could or would ever top the splendour of The White Goddess, but somehow they managed it. And not only did the Bavarians manage it; they made it look easy to boot, making it all the more spectacular. If you are into Into Glory Ride-era Manowar or Bathory back in the days of Hammerheart and you like your metal epic with a dose of doom on the side, you owe it to yourself to at least check out this album.
Label: Ván Records, 2019
- The Alpha and the Occident (Rising from Atlantean Tombs) (02:01)
- People of the Moon (Dawn of Creation) (09:01)
- Lion of Chaldea (The Heroes’ Journey) (06:45)
- Chariots (Descending from Zagros) (08:29)
- The Innermost Light (Sensus Fidei) (03:34)
- A Secret Byzantium (Numbered as Sand and the Stars) (08:55)
- He Who Walks Behind the Years (Place of Sounding Drums) (08:53)
- Spell of the Western Sea (Among Wolves and Thieves) (01:27)
- The Course of Empire (All Thrones in Earth and Heaven) (10:46)
- Die Welt von Gestern (Abendland) (02:43)
- Markus Becker – vocals
- Manuel Trummer – guitars
- Coralie Baier – guitars
- Florian Kreuzer – bass
- Mario Weiss – drums
Review by Ralph Plug