Some Metal artists just can’t sit still, take Austrian singer/composer Martin Schirenc for example. After the split of his prostheses obsessed band PUNGENT STENCH in 2007, he immediately decided to dig up his long-forgotten project HOLLENTHON.This band is undoubtedly one of Metal’s best kept underground secrets. Back in 1999 and 2001 Martin and his adepts brutally awakened the then dormant Death Metal genre spawning cult albums such as “Domus Mundi” and “With Vilest Of Worms To Dwell”. Both albums were an incomparable symbiosis of pompous orchestral arrangements and vile adrenaline-pumping Death Metal. I still remember that the first listen of “With Vilest…” left me in complete awe for hours, how could two extremes co-exist in such harmony? Of course THERION and EMPEROR had already paved the extreme Symphonic Metal path, but no one dared to translate the often used “beauty and beast” concept to orchestras and Death Metal. Needless to say, my expectations for “Opus Magnum” (Latin for masterpiece) were astronomically high: Is their new spawn truly the masterpiece of epic proportions which the title suggests? And can it thereby surpass its often celebrated predecessor “With Vilest Of Worms To Dwell”?
Alas, the answer to both questions are negative. It can’t top their true masterpiece “With Vilest Of Worms…”. This doesn’t mean that “Opus Magnum” is a lackluster album, far from! All of the tasteful HOLLENTHON ingredients that we have come to love have luckily remained untouched. The wide range of bombastic orchestral arrangements, Gregoric chants, Arabian interludes and Schirenc’s instantly recognizable raw throat leave you gasping for air more than once. On the other hand, the guitar play has been simplified and the orchestral compositions seem to have lost some of their uniqueness and power. Since HOLLENTHON has always stood out in this department, it baffles me that “Once We Were Kings” and “To Fabled Lands” lack any memorable melodies or well-weaved song structures. The songs I still find on par with their previous releases are “On The Wings Of A Dove” , “Ars Moriendi” and “Dying Embers”. They offer nothing more than a pure orgy of goose bumps through an ingenious mix of thunderous double bass, chugging riffs combined with brass and woodwind play. But…be warned! The untrained ear might need a few more rotations in order to fully absorb the beauty of these song structures and orchestral cohesion.
Lyrically, Martin still draws inspiration from Medieval war stories and apocalyptic sceneries, which sound more intriguing and mystical than ever before. The production is also slightly clearer than in their previous works.
Ironically HOLLENTHON didn’t top their real masterpiece “With Vilest Of Worms To Dwell” with this release. Nevertheless, “Opus Magnum” will settle for a well-deserved place in the lower regions of my yearly top 10. The full album also contains a cover of the Canadian Rock formation THE TEA PARTY, which oddly enough wasn’t featured on the promo. Woe to the narrow-minded metal lover who ignores this unique release!
Stand-out tracks: “On The Wings Of A Dove” , “Ars Moriendi” , “Son Of Perdition” and “Dying Embers”.
(Online January 25, 2009)