01. Ars Almadel
02. Angel Horned
03. Esoteric Formulae
04. The Coronation Of Seth
07. Goddess Of Masr
09. Circle In Flames
10. Through The Eyes Of Ea
2010 Metal Blade Records
2009 was a respectable year for "epic" death metal, with two of the genre's most recognizable acts, Behemoth and Nile, both releasing a new album. In light of that, it's easy to second-guess Metal Blade's decision to release Aeternam's Disciples of the Unseen a scant two months into 2010 - essentially while Those Whom the Gods Detest is still pretty fresh in listeners' minds. Then again, maybe it was a good call: something to help us forget how uneven the new Nile is.
I'm a little conflicted by this album. I hate describing one band by just comparing it to other bands. Unfortunately, the fact remains that sonically there's a LOT of common ground between Aeternam and Nile. Aeternam still manage to differentiate themselves a bit, but the resemblance is hard to ignore. There's the focus on Egypt for lyrical content. Okay, so it's arguable that Aeternam seems to be a more generalized act, taking musical and lyrical cues scattershot from throughout the Middle East. Also, where Nile or Behemoth would opt for a straight death metal attack, Aeternam dives into lush acoustic melodies and vocal harmonies that, while most definitely not my thing, still play pretty well in the context of the album. It would be easy to dismiss tracks like "The Coronation of Seth" as shameless radio-friendly "Nile-lite," but to do so would be pretty unfair. Yeah, they have a lot of melody and a fair bit of clean vocals going on; that alone will be enough to turn off some of the more hard-assed members of their target audience, but the execution of the heavier parts is just as competent and these guys manage to slip back and forth between the two with admirable style.
The drumming is crisp and complex enough to keep things engaging, but never seems to be out of place. The keyboards add a great deal to the atmosphere of the album, and certainly do a lot to maintain a melodic counterpoint during the more blastbeat-happy moments, but the execution is pretty standard fare for this genre and they also go a long way towards pegging Aeternam as "just another epic metal act." The guitarwork is commendable, which more or less goes without saying in this genre, and the attentive listener will pick out a myriad of different styles, from acoustic strumming that recalls the Middle Eastern dabblings of Secret Chiefs 3 to blithe stoner metal tics during the solos, to balls-to-the wall death metal (and a dash of black metal-style tremolo picking to spice things up from time to time.)
The vocals are pretty solid, with the clean vocals adding a layer of catchiness that, again, is not my thing, but they're tastefully executed. Not to say the death metal growls aren't well-handled, of course, but it's very obvious that Aeternam isn't afraid to try a more gentle approach. As mentioned above, I can see how the execution of the clean vocals might turn off some listeners, but after a few spins through I found myself really enjoying them in spite of myself.
"Iteru" is also a noteworthy track, if nothing more than as a great example of how interlude tracks should be done. At just shy of 3 minutes, it's one of the shortest cuts on the album, and actually sounds like something with more substance than half-baked noodling the band couldn't bear to part with (or elaborate upon.) There's a cohesive structure behind it, and the album flows very organically into this little interlude. I wish more bands had the sense to put this kind of care into their "throwaway" songs.
Another standout track is "Goddess of Masr," which sees the band fall into an almost black metal mode for a bit. It caught me off guard, but still flowed pretty well. It's little touches like this that help Aeternam separate themselves from their obvious influences.
Bottom Line: Ultimately, Aeternam are walking a fine line between retreading the same ground their influences have already strip-mined and actually building upon those influences to establish an identity. I'm not sure whether we NEED another "Egyptian" death metal band, but there's enough talent and songwriting sensibility here to justify some attention.