Review – Aquilus: Griseus

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Review – Aquilus: Griseus
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Aquilus: Griseus
Neoclassical Folk
A Sad Sadness Song (2012), Self-release
December 21st, 2011 / May, 2012
Release length: 1:19:55
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Aquilus is a one man Australian act that refers to themselves as an Atmospheric Metal group. However, that is a bit too broad a term, as this definitely deserves the Neoclassical Folk Metal tag that many have given it. Griseus marks the first full-length recording, and was issued digitally near the close of 2011. However, A Sad Sadness Song picked up this recording for a May, 2012 release. A fitting home for this rather beautiful composition.

Waldorf, the man behind this creation, must have put some time into studying Classical composition. Griseus finds great beauty and power much of the time because of it. The quality of the album is on par with a modern-day digital clarity, though still has a hint of rawness that restrains things ever so slightly to the point where you can almost see the music performed in vintage black and white. The vocals are often a little further in the mix, or highly distorted with a louder level so they come off more as a suitable noise than anything else. The guitars change from a heavy electric sharpness to meet intense, pounding Folk Metal compositions that are as if Strapping Young Lad had flung themselves into the days of classical composers and wig parties crossed with acts like Arkona. The orchestrated elements come through genuinely natural most of the time, and not always like material composed by a keyboard, often giving the music a vibrant, booming sound that feeds into the epic chunks of the release well. The drums also have a natural sound to them with thudding bass kicks that often are drowned out by the beautiful symphonic performances, tight snares that have a great bite to them through a what raw quality exists, and cymbals that crash as loudly as the orchestrations.

All of this may seem a bit overwhelming, as does the album length of nearly eighty minutes, but there’s nothing at all to worry about. Griseus ends up a captivating piece from start to finish. For the most part, Aquilus does a good job of blending Classical influences with a blackened style Folk Metal to give it more of a sinister bite when things need to be loud and grander. But, there are plenty of Progressive Metal moments where the leap feels too sudden and takes a moment to catch up and feel normal to its flow. “Nihil” kicks things off with a slow introduction to the beautiful compositions of the symphonic instruments, but does transition into far more abrasive and almost venomous Metal at a faster pace. It utilizes the orchestrations well to really build up to a crashing climax before slowing down to a soothing, but still dark musical score that carries on for quite some time. The only gripe hits around the nine minute and fifty seconds mark, where some very quick and vibrant levels are hit really quick, ultimately sounding less organic on top of just being too jarring to the pace despite the heroic sense being thrown into them. The gradual build that follows this into a similar level, but executed more at a mid-tempo that gradually increases in speed, is definitely what should have taken its place.

Unfortunately, “Nihil” doesn’t quite reach the heights that other tracks here hit. While it’s still a strong composition, “Loss” shows how beautiful and chaotic things can become. After a lengthy two plus minutes of slowly building Classical material, the blackened Folk rears its head again with raspy vocals and a sudden enthusiastic burst to the music and speed, really presenting a darker touch to the epic tones. The keyboards here are simply inspiring while the harsher chords and prominent drumming accentuate it well. The vocals eventually fade away to reveal a depressing, yet very moving piano piece with additional keyboards behind it pushing the environment of the score further until it’s very passionate, powerful climax that ends with layered, intimidating deeper rasps.

While “Nihil” wasn’t the most inspiring of longer tracks, “Night Bell” pushes it further. This seventeen and a half-minute offering ends up being a slow but peaceful track, a fitting end to the chaos and sometimes clustering formulas of the previous songs. While not the most beautiful offering, the pianos here sound fantastic and really bring in a great deal of emotion. The darker keyboards towards the end really set in ominous clouds to the bright blue skies the first fourteen minutes established. It feels common to something along the lines of a big budget blockbuster Fantasy film, but given everything that you go through in the hour past, it doesn’t really revisit the sinister Metal elements like it seems to be trying to accomplish. Instead, it basically tries to play with the listeners feelings, eventually blending back into the lighter, hopeful side of things, all the while not really leaving you with much authentic closure.

Of course, these longer tracks are given a decent amount of time to alter the way the listener feels. However, shorter songs here can sometimes almost ignore the Neoclassical style all together, and go for a stronger Folk Metal approach that doesn’t quite hit the mark. This is the case with “Latent Thistle.” This one doesn’t rely on the Symphonic elements, utilizing them more as a background accompaniment to make the music sound rich. It works, but the Folk Metal aspect just hammers away at the guitars and drums, creating absolute chaos. About half way in, things slow down, and we’re greeted with a Middle Eastern approach at a much slower speed. Imagine a more Progressive Metal sense of changes to the speed or music in general to Melechesh, but with a Classical orchestration supporting the material. Unfortunately this doesn’t fit with what the environment of the past four songs have been until four and a half minutes in which brings you back to the woods for a joyous celebration full of clear skies, warm weather, and placing minstrels and children laughing and playing without the effects to accompany those last two. Clearly this is meant to carry into what appears to be a conceptual piece as far as the flow of the music goes, but the sudden jerking from one setting to another doesn’t work and hurts the flow even more, especially given how unrelated they end up being. Unfortunately, this ends up one of the less enjoyable songs. Even “Arboreal Sleep” falls into that category too, but it’s far more consistent in comparison, and even takes on a bit of a Depressive Black Metal vibe thanks to the melancholic guitar work that is brought in, which feeds on the Symphonic keyboards.

Overall, Griseus is a really good album. Sometimes the Symphonic orchestrations can become a little too mundane and feel like it is simply a traditional keyboard approach bands like Dimmu Borgir are known for utilizing, but many songs, like “Loss,” “In Lands of Ashes” and others, really push a crisp, natural sound that comes off more like the proper instruments are being utilized, or in rare cases underutilized. This album does have its share of problems, but when you sit back and examine what Aquilus has put together, especially as a one man operation, you will instantly recognize a lot of potential in this recording, and perhaps backed by a bigger label instead of an independent release, we’ll see a truly epic, moving masterpiece. But, for now, Griseus will do. No matter how you look at it, the Classical elements are often beautiful and moving, though the Metal can sometimes seem to get in the way, especially when the transitions occur, but don’t really feel complete right away. Either way, this is an album any self-respecting Metal fan should really take the time out to experience.


01. Nihil – 14:00
02. Loss – 9:05
03. Smokefall – 7:00
04. In Lands of Ashes – 11:55
05. Latent Thistle – 5:35
06. Arboreal Sleep – 8:30
07. The Fawn – 6:20
08. Night Bell – 17:30
Overall Score: 8.5/10


Digital review copy of this release provided by A Sad Sadness Song.