Atlantean Kodex - The golden bough 4.5/5

Reviewed: 5-1-11


1. Fountain of Nepenthe
2. Pilgrim
3. The white goddess
4. Temple of Katholic Magick
5. Disciples of the iron crown
6. Vesperal hymn
7. The Atlantean Kodex
8. A prophet in the forest
9. The golden bough

Germany’s Atlantean Kodex have earned a place of almost worshipful reverence among the underground true metal faithful in recent years. For quite some time, they enjoyed a legendary cult status even though they had never released a CD. An impressive but primitive 4-song demo CD entitled ‘The Pnakotic demos’ and released through a tiny label in 2007 served only to fan the flames of acclamation. Finally, late last year, Atlantean Kodex released their full-length debut CD, ‘The golden bough’, through Italy’s excellent Cruz del Sur label. Immediately, rapturous reviews popped up all over the Internet. Metal journalists hailed it as a landmark true metal CD and showered it with glowing praise and eye-popping scores. Now that a few months have passed and the furor has subsided somewhat, your friends at Metal CD Ratings decided to take a closer look to see what all the fuss is about.

What you should know from the outset are that Atlantean Kodex specialize in old-school true metal of the most epic, sweeping and pure form. They don’t shun this fact. To the contrary, they wear it on their sleeves proudly. For example, the demo CD was packaged with a sticker bearing the band’s logo and the legend “Regressive Epic Metal.” And ‘The golden bough’ includes liner notes in which the band dedicate this CD to “12,000 years of European mythology, and to the spirit of underground metal proudly defying progress.” These self-disclosures are quite insightful as to the Atlantean Kodex mindset. But before you dismiss them out of hand as loincloth-wearing, chest-pounding Neanderthals, you should also know that they bear a musical and lyrical sophistication that might catch some listeners unawares. It takes a considerable degree of compositional skill to write 3 epic metal tunes exceeding 10 minutes in length that never descend into mediocrity, redundancy, or boredom. Yet that’s what Atlantean Kodex have done. And it takes a considerable degree of intellectual creativity to meld the usual Tolkienisms into a thematic CD (notice I didn’t say “concept CD”) designed to explore a long-discredited scholarly thesis that all European religions (including Christianity) originate from magical cults and fertility rites dating back 12,000 years; to hypothesize about the idealized state of ancient Europe before its peoples had splintered along national, religious or other lines; and to address the romantic yearning for a lost utopia, for a golden bough to transport us to an “otherworld” as in ancient Greek mythology. Again, that’s what Atlantean Kodex have done. Clearly, there’s a lot to digest in ‘The golden bough’.

Musically, Atlantean Kodex are not breaking new ground. And, again, that’s by design. The band’s mission is to channel classic underground metal, unsullied by modern trends or experimentation. I hear a great deal of ‘Into glory ride’-era Manowar on ‘The golden bough’, but also the likes of Doomsword, viking-era Bathory, Manilla Road, Crom, more than a hint of Solitude Aeturnus and Solstice, and perhaps even When Heaven Wept. Vocalist Markus Becker may not be a technically brilliant singer, but his clear voice carries so much undiluted melancholy and emotion that he suits the songs perfectly. Most songs stick to mid-paced or lumbering slow tempos (again, think Manowar circa ‘Into glory ride’) and the vibe is often one of gloom or melancholy, so there’s an aura of doom over the whole thing, but ‘The golden bough’ isn’t really a doom metal CD because it oozes epic grandeur from start to finish. Atlantean Kodex mash the gas pedal on “Disciples of the iron crown” and also approach uptempo realms in portions of their eponymous song, “The Atlantean Kodex”. But the band proves equally adept at a somber, partially acoustic dirge, “Vesperal hymn”, so there’s actually a good bit of variety on display.

Notwithstanding all of this, I know Atlantean Kodex have their share of detractors, who view the band as essentially repackaging the musical ideas of Quorthon and Joey DeMaio with a layer of overblown self-indulgence. I can understand that viewpoint, but I cannot espouse it. To my ears, Atlantean Kodex are attempting to take some of the most brilliant heavy metal melodies and arrangements of the past and breathe new life into them through their own musical and lyrical vision. Besides, the key to ‘The golden bough’ is the power and emotion it conveys. I can put this CD in the player, dim the lights, crack open a beer, and become lost in the world of Atlantean Kodex for 65 minutes without even noticing that the time has passed. It really does have that rare quality of being able to transport the listener to a faraway place, if only he will open his mind and heart to make the journey. Maybe ‘The golden bough’ isn’t the golden platter that its champions avow it to be. Maybe it is self-indulgent. I guess I don’t care. Whatever else it may be, ‘The golden bough’ is a truly fascinating, challenging, and masterful piece of work that all of you old-schoolers are highly encouraged to investigate further.




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