I’ve been waiting for this album with baited breath for three and a half years, ever since the autumn 2002 announcement that BAL-SAGOTH’s sixth album would be out in a few months. When I came to college, I set aside a spot in my CD collection for this album. Every quarter or so, the band’s website would be updated promising the new album in another six months. Now, two days before I was supposed to graduate, I received the promo out of the blue. Awesome. But was it worth the wait?
So is there anything massively different from the Epic/Black/Symphonic soundtrack-sounding, Sci-Fi/Fantasy themed BAL-SAGOTH we know and love? No. The bombastic kings of Barbarian Metal (their term) are in fine form on “The Chthonic Chronicles.” The English gents haven’t radically revised the style they’ve played since 1996’s “Starfire Burning Over The Ice-Veiled Throne Of Ultima Thule.” For some bands, making so similar of albums can be deadly, but for BAL-SAGOTH, it’s fantastic; they’re the only band in the arena and they kick enough ass that they’re well off.
That’s not to say that they’ve stagnated. Most of the changes are subtle. With the last two albums, a lot of people complained that BAL-SAGOTH was getting too happy and bright; while I don’t agree with them, such whiners will be pleased with “The Chthonic Chronicles,” as the atmosphere is considerably more evil (notably except “Arcana Antediluvia”). The star-faring adventure from “The Power Cosmic” is replaced by creeping, Lovecraftian terrors hinted at on “Atlantis Ascendant” but brought to the fore here. I can’t think of an album that uses the word “malefic” so much. The songs are heavier, darker, less likely to break out with an egregiously synthesized trumpet. Think “Starfire…” ideas with “Atlantis Ascendant” production. As a neat touch, the band has added some barely heard choral vocals in the backgrounds of some songs.
So then what’s up with this “Mostly”? Keyboard-crafted instrumental passages. They’ve been a hallmark since “Starfire…,” but here they seem a bit overly ubiquitous here. There’s “The Sixth Adulation Of His Chthonic Majesty,” the last minute of “Six Score And Ten Oblations To A Malefic Avatar,” “The Fallen Kingdoms Of The Abyssal Plain,” “To Storm The Cyclopean Gates Of Byzantium,” and “Return To Hatheg-Kla.” Sure, they try some new tricks with more dynamic percussion in some of the songs, but this is entirely too much. More than a quarter of this album is keyboard filler. Cut that fat away (or at least down) and you’ve got a tight beast of an album. As it is, these tracks are easy enough to skip that they don’t have to detract much. I’m also undecided on the productions of Byron’s snarled vocals, as it makes them sound almost computer generated.
If you enjoy any of BAL-SAGOTH’s albums, “The Chthonic Chronicles” is for you. Another fantastic album from a unique band. “Blodu ok jarna” and all. But come on, not another five years between albums. Please? (Online June 4, 2006)