Aquilus – Bellum II

6 min read

Band: Aquilus
Album: Bellum II
Label: Northern Silence Productions
Release date: May 3rd, 2024
Country: Australia
Format reviewed: High-quality digital recording

The fact that I find myself unable to offer a proper sentence to start this review with should tell you everything about the way this album made me feel. Despite Northern Silence Productions being known for having a roster of incredible artists that take black metal to the level of ‘fine art’ I should have expected to be more than impressed by this record. I was first introduced to Aquilus almost a year and a half ago when I stumbled across the predecessor of this album, titled “Bellum I”. Since hearing the opening track on that record, I was mesmerized by the way this project blended black metal and classical/neoclassical music in a way that I had never heard before. The fact that we’re speaking of a one-man project makes this all the more interesting and impressive.

“Bellum II” is one of the albums that I thought about ever since they were announced, and I remember being over the moon the day it was released. Despite all the build-up hype and my expectations being higher than usual, this album still managed to blow me away in every sense possible. The best way to describe it is definitely artistic. If I could give the music a visual representation, besides the awesome album cover, it would definitely be the painting “Wanderer above a sea of Fog” by Caspar David Friedrich. The whole atmosphere created by the music is just incredibly touching, a sheer manifestation of artistic and emotional beauty delivered through instrumental ensembles and contrasting voices, creating some sort of audible delight. But I will finally stop yapping and start delving properly into the music (brace yourselves, this is going to be a long one).

The album starts out in classic Aquilus fashion, with a short, yet mesmerizing intro track by the name of By Tallow North. It mainly composes of a church organ melody that builds up on the atmosphere of the record and will be present, although with variations of course, in various instances throughout different songs along the way, creating an intriguing backdrop for the ulterior manifestations.

Two minutes and a drum fill later, Into the Earth comes in like a show of power and beauty, offering us a first taste of the album’s mastery of composition and its undoubtedly fascinating complexity. On top the traditional black metal instrumentation, there are countless layers of instrumentals, each one complementing the dreamlike melody that drives the song. The vocal performance took me by surprise, in a way, as at times resembles what we’re used to hearing in death metal, with the instrumental following in the same vein, balancing between two completely different sounds, thus adding a touch of intrigue, and, of course, tasteful contrast to the composition. The structure of the song is definitely unconventional, featuring multiple different sections that at first may seem unrelated to one another, yet, as the song progresses, they all fall beautifully into place. It is almost progressive, if you can use that term in relationship to black metal, at least. The song ends with a rather mysterious piano fill, that bridges the gap with the next track.

Coming up next we have another piano piece, titled A Solitary Demise. This composition falls a bit more on the melancholic side, compared to the intro track, and it also switches the church organ for a classical piano, violin and cello as the main instruments. The song itself has a strong lamenting quality, that I can’t help but feel drawn to. I genuinely hope that one day I’ll be able to hear an album by Waldorf, the musician behind this project, made out of just this kind of neoclassical music, because he honestly excels at it.

Night to Her Gloam starts out with a delicate acoustic guitar sequence, which quickly builds up into the magnum opus of this record. This is easily the best, most complex song on the record. Within its 17 minutes, you can hear every beautiful aspect of Aquilus’s music and so much more. Although similar in terms of foundation to Into the Earth, it exceeds everything ever heard on any of the band’s previous releases. Like I mentioned in the beginning of this review, this album, but particularly this song, is truly a piece of art in every sense of the word. The effort and dedication put into just this track is more than impressive, and it goes beyond anything done in black metal up to this point, to the point where it is debatable whether this can be considered a black metal song. Perhaps it is the beginning of another subgenre, who knows? I highly recommend listening to this song, as it is rather difficult to put into words every aspect of it. To put it simply, it is a masterpiece.

Sombre Loom comes up next, another intriguing piece that brings about a folk influence, which adds an interesting feel of playfulness to the song. There are also really pleasant backing vocals, that make everything feel all the more enchanting, before the song succumbs to a faint, calm melody. That doesn’t last too long, however, ad the songs regains its catchy feel soon after. Overall, it is a particularly entertaining piece of music to listen to, that provides a perfect passage to the next song.

My Frost-Laden Vale is easily my favourite song on this album. Although not as intricate as Night to Her Gloam, the emotions embedded into this composition are something out of this world. This is what happens when someone puts their soul into their craft. Everything from the acoustic and classical ensembles at the beginning and the end to the sheer intensity of the black metal aspects with their sheer power and epicness never ceases to amaze and touch my heart. That feeling of longing, which I love, is found in every note played in the course of this song. And the violin passages contrasting the black metal ones are simply bliss to my ears. Call me a fangirl, but this is a song that I’d be able to talk about for hours on end, and still find something new about it at every listen. But enough from me, just listen to it, and see for yourself. Chances are you will share my opinion.

The last two songs on the record, are, once again, neoclassical instrumentals. Amindst Soughing Tristesse includes a soulful operatic vocal performance, that offers the piece a gothic, almost doomy vibe, which I would like to hear more of in the future. It is the kind of music that gives you goosebumps every time you hear it. It is simply beautiful, and just that. The Pillared Dark closes the album in a fashion similar to its intro track, while also featuring a sequence from the 1945 movie “Brief Encounter”: “This can’t last. This misery can’t last. I must remember that and try to control myself. Nothing lasts really. Neither happiness nor despair. Not even life lasts very long. There’ll come a time in the future when I shan’t mind about this anymore, when I can look back and say quite peacefully and cheerfully how silly I was. No, no, I don’t want that time to come ever. I want to remember every minute, always, always to the end of my days.” This chilling quote ends the album with a strong feeling of melancholy, tying together the emotional rollercoaster of Bellum II.

What a journey… I don’t even know how to end this. All I can say is, if my words piqued your interest, you know what to do. You are likely to experience something utterly otherworldly. 10/10 by Ioana

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