Review – Atrorum: Structurae

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  • Bio: "Atrorum is the eerie playground of umbrA (Nebelkrähe, Dryad's Tree, Rapid, Azavatar, etc.) and vatroS (Rapid, beNUTS, Dryad's Tree, etc.) where they can devote themselves to their love for complex arrangements in the dark/black/avantgarde realm of metal." - Facebook
  • Label: Apathia Records
  • Release Date: November 16th, 2015
  • Genre: Folk, Progressive Black Metal
  • Website: Visit Website
  • Rating (out of 10):

When it comes to unique acts in the black metal world, there’s enough variety out there to constantly find something new or refreshing when sticking to the roots of the style gets a little tiresome or repetitive. Many would argue, however, that the duo known as Atrorum is perhaps one of the more diverse entities in the field. The team of Jasper Werhahn and Fabian Ziegler began working together back in 1998, and since then have taken their time to unleash one truly interesting recording after another following their 2003 demo Himmelsstürmer, which was also the name of their 2004 self-release debut. 2006 saw the follow-up effort, Exhibition, handled in the same manner. While there was a short burst of studio material at that time, the group went silent when it came to new recordings for nearly ten years. In November of 2015, we are given their third opus, titled Structurae, which is being handled by Apathia Records. But does it stick out as something of inspiration, or is it mostly mundane in its eccentric experimentations?

There’s no denying Structurae is definitely a highly diverse recording. Not only does it span six different languages, but also a number of styles, and even eras. One minute you could be listening to a grim, frostbitten slab of traditional second wave black metal, and the next you’re engaging in grand folk elements or even a keyboard score from the age of silent black-and-white films (yes, there was a time film was silent and the only music was played in the theatre on a grand piano). The audio quality, however, is another thing. The crisp instruments carry an almost unnatural sharpness that just seems forced into the overall pitch of the release, becoming shrill enough to make me scramble to my speakers and turn it down to the half-way mark on the dial due to how piercing it wound up being. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case for each track. For example, the symphonic passage around six minutes in on “Amapolas” didn’t hit my brain like the nails on a chalkboard the same way it did in the feedback heavy conclusion of “Regnum caelorum” or pretty much all of “Menschsein” did.

Coincidentally, “Menschsein” is a great track that deserves to be played loud. This cut is a superb example of the band’s ability to dabble in mixing folk and black metal together, though with some symphonic elements scattered about that come off a cross between Diabolical Masquerade and the gothic atmospheres of the early Castlevania video game scores. The latter makes up a good majority of the first third, but a good chunk of the song after that is some lighter Vintersorg or Borknagar passages. Meanwhile there’s “Große Weiße Welt”, which comes off like Aborym or at least a blackened Scar Symmetry. The electronic overtones and atmospheric breaks work with the crisp audio quality to introduce some subtle industrialized black metal moments, such as the cold, haunting piano passage and hushed layered rasps around two minutes in. Much of this one seems to slowly build itself up, throwing some dramatic keyboard stings clearly inspired by the aforementioned silent film era, eventually finding itself incorporated in a train robbery western sense of technicality behind the melodic leads, though toned down once more for the later intricate progressive chords.


But then you have “Ψαλμός”, which definitely favors an experimental side despite starting off like a Dimmu Borgir song. While this is far from a bad thing to say, here it actually is a bit of a let down in the sense that it’s an otherwise solid piece of sleek, royalty tinged gothic black metal that, out of nowhere, throws intentional off-key notes from the keyboard into the mix by two minutes in. You could argue it’s meant to create a sensation of unease, but it ends up just sounding like a cat got on Jasper’s keyboard for a bit and someone hit the record button for laughs, especially compared to the uneven notes and choir chanting that hits approaching the half-way mark before diving into a brief funeral doom metal procession to play off the gloriously depressing overtones. What follows that is a catchy progressive metal chunk that takes its time to build and become anywhere near as powerful as that aforementioned trudging. It’s almost the polar opposite of “Camouflage”, which shows more of a progressive rock side in the vein of an eccentric King’s X cut laced with moody folk influence and atmospheres that can get one’s Irish blood boiling a bit.

If you happen to be familiar with Atrorum already, then you have a good idea of what you’ll be getting yourself into. Structurae may have taken nearly ten years to come to life and find its way into the hands of long time fans and newcomers alike, but it’s a wait that was well worth being patient over. The range displayed and how it all works together to weave a collage of cold, gothic grandeur across multiple styles, regions, and languages is simply impressive. Of course, some segments do feel forced into certain directions or to contain an element to either expand the life of the song or suddenly change gears, but they are often quite minimal outside the aforementioned cat on a keyboard passage in “Ψαλμός”. Those faults aside, Structuae is something black metal fans looking for more than just another tried-but-true second wave or overly raw/analog recording will find tickling their fancy for quite a while.


Digital review copy of this release provided by Apathia Records.