Hollenthon - Opus magnum 4/5

Reviewed: 5-30-08


1. On the wings of a dove
2. To fabled lands
3. Son of perdition
4. Ars moriendi
5. Once we were kings
6. Of splendid worlds
7. Dying embers
8. Misterium babel

You have to give them one thing it takes some guts to call a CD with no less than 7 years worth of expectations behind it 'Opus magnum'. After creating some waves with a brace of well-received releases in 1999 and 2001, the Austrian symphonic metal outfit Hollenthon were put on the back burner while mainman Martin Schirenc focused on his main band, Pungent Stench. With the long-running death metal band put to rest again, Hollenthon has been brought back to activity and the long-awaited 3rd CD is finally here.

'Symphonic metal' is of course a very broad term and doesn't quite do justice to the varied styles displayed on 'Opus magnum'. Thunderous orchestral swoops are the most obvious aspect of the sound, but all set against a variety of backgrounds that weave between melodic death and black metal and some folk-influenced power metal as various orchestral instruments, guitars and piano parts clamour for space without ever making things appear clustered. The vocals of Schirenc's wife Elena also appear hear and there across the CD and compliment his rolling growls very well.

The choral arrangements and sweeping stringed instruments call to mind Therion, though Hollenthon are far more concise; conversely, while the folkish parts and guttural vocals of Schirenc are a little reminiscent of Turisas, the complexity Hollenthon display not only across the CD but through individual songs is far above anything the Finns have done to date. "To fabled lands", for instance, is part dashing power metal and part punishing melodeath, all seamlessly bound together by the orchestral pieces. "Sons of perdition" represents a rare misstep, as the simplistic verses hamper what is otherwise another fine song, and it lacks the strong interplay between the varied instruments that make the rest of the CD so successful.

Thankfully a mistake so often made with this sort of music is not repeated on 'Opus magnum', and the guitar playing is not left to sit in the background at all times. "Ars moriendi" begins in a very guitar-driven fashion without losing its complexity, with some excellent driving riffs and a terrific solo taking centre stage before the string and choir sections build to a thrilling crescendo. "Of splendid worlds" also displays some finger-bending sweep picking that is completely at odds with the classical aspect of Hollenthon's sound and yet somehow fits perfectly into the song.

Special mention must go to the closing track "Misterium babel", which is the true magnum opus of 'Opus magnum'. An 8-minute, middle eastern-influenced voyage that witnesses hypnoctic, meandering chanting over thudding perussion intertwine with crushing riffs and orchestral flurries, and it fades the CD out on a mysterious and deeply satisfying note.

The weight of expectation may dampen the satisfaction of Hollenthon fans who have been waiting impatiently since 'The vilest of worms to dwell' for this release, but the quality of the music here cannot be argued with. Therion fans dissastisfed with 2007's sprawling 'Gothic kabbalah' may find something a little more to to their tastes here, as should any symphonic metal fan with a tolerance for the extreme subgenres.




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