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Beyond the Wandering Moon (1997)

Beyond the Wandering Moon is the first full-length album from Aeternus. Released on Hammerheart Records in 1997, this album came to my attention while digging through the CD racks in a Norwegian record store, a few years later. The cover art grabbed my attention, and I remembered that one of the band members had once been involved with Gorgoroth, so I thought it was worth giving a shot. It certainly was not what I expected, so it took quite some time to fully digest and to form a decent opinion.

One would think that a Norwegian black metal album from this period, recorded in Grieghallen, no less, would not possess any real surprises. However, this sounded nothing like one would imagine. It is rather unique, at least based on my listening experience, for there aren't many things that seem to sound anything like this. After the piano intro, the listener may anticipate something along the lines of Tales from the Thousand Lakes, from Amorphis. However, the song "Sworn Revenge" begins with rather intense riffs. The production is not very good, as the drums are far too high in the mix and end up dominating the sound in many places, leaving the guitar riffs to languish in the background. The drumming has the same type of annoying presence as on Gorgoroth's Under the Sign of Hell. As well, Vrolok does a bit more than necessary for the music. The guitars, whenever they manage to be heard, almost have more of a death metal feeling, at times. Ares and company would have benefited greatly from utilizing a more organic production, as well as employing a different vocal style. The deep sound just does not compliment the music as it should, though credit can be given for trying something different, as opposed to the rest of the scene at the time.

The songwriting is interesting, for the most part, though the very best ideas manage to get neglected and are never truly explored to the extent that they should have been. There is a lot of variation to be found here and it would be very incorrect to really label this as a black metal album. Aeternus manages a nice blend of black, doom, folk and death metal riffs. While the music does convey a dark and sombre feeling, at times, it most certainly is not evil and never approaches anything resembling real black metal. It is far too relaxing for that, such as the piano section near the end of "White Realm". There exists potential for the music to create an epic atmosphere, here and there, but the production hinders this greatly. "Sentinels of Darkness" contains some nice melodies that would have been more effective had more emphasis been put on the actual guitars riffs. Still, it's during songs such as this one that the band seems to shine the most. When attempting more "pure" black metal, they fall short and sound mediocre at best. Some of this can be blamed on the overall sound, but the vocals and drumming just don't do much for this type of guitar playing. Finally, on the song "Vind", one can hear some raspier vocals that suit the atmosphere a little better, and this also happens to be one of the standout tracks.

In the end, Beyond the Wandering Moon is not a bad album. It has its moments, but one cannot help but think of the various ways in which this album could have been better. The bludgeoning production does not suit the music and leaves the listener a little exhausted by the middle of the album, as does the fact that some of the songs drag on longer than they should. Still, if you have patience and don't mind a little inconsistency, this album could prove to be interesting.
(4 Sept. 2011)

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