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Aquilus – ‘Bellum I’

Blood Music
Opeth, Katatonia, Devin Townsend, Emperor
Release Date
Blood Music
Atmospheric Metal

Horace Rosenqvist is a special kind of composer. Not one to rush at things either, “Griseus” was the incredible debut under the Aquilus moniker way back in 2011, with a vinyl issue in 2013. Maybe the distractions of Melbourne’s nightlife keep him occupied, or possibly it’s the mind-boggling complexity and perfectionist attention to detail in his almost legendary take on Orchestral Black Metal that takes all his waking hours. Probably both.

Some 8 years in the making, ‘Bellum I’ is so epic it’s being released in two sections. ‘Bellum I’ is 61 minutes and just 8 songs long. With everything from shrieked Black vocals over ear-splitting crescendos (‘Into the Wooded Hollows’), to gently crooned melody over acoustic “lounge jazz” guitars and shimmering strings (‘The Silent Passing’) there is so much ground being covered it’s quite hard to know just where the listener will end up. Hopefully in a record store eyeing up a copy on vinyl.

What makes this album stand out from other Blackened/Black with… is the phenomenal orchestration. It is Thomas Newman good; in fact, it’s near as dammit Ralph Vaughan Williams good. The unholy marriage of natural acoustic strings with shattering blast beats behind distorted/shredded guitar is quite literally breath-taking. And the piano lines and interludes? Some sound as if they have been lifted from Rachmaninov’s long-lost scrapbook of ideas. The intro to the immense closing track “Empyreal Nightsky” emerges from silence with strings and organ tutti’s worthy of Dmitri Shostakovich at his most mysterious, before a minimalistic piano leads into the body of the piece, with massed chorus and swelling strings before it gradually breaks apart into fragments, and eventually returns to silence.

Aquilus’s legendary debut ‘Griseus’ was regarded as one of the finest albums of the 2010’s. ‘Bellum I’ should be held in similar esteem for the 2020’s.

"A masterclass in colossal scale and grandeur; possibly the most stunningly orchestrated Metal album yet made"

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