Do you have a short attention span? If so, then fuck off back to grindcore land because this release is your nightmare. To clarify, not a Mirror Reaper level nightmare, but a nightmare all the same.
Dust of Aeons by Towards Atlantis Lights has a runtime a little shy of an hour, but 30 of those minutes fall to opening track “The Bunker of Life” alone. Like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, this album is a bit of an endurance test, but one that is ultimately worth the time and effort. I’ll circle back to this LotR comparison a bit more later, but for now lets discuss the dramatic death doom on hand.
Right off the bat, the production and approach to slow riffs and ominous atmosphere draw comparisons to Ahab’s Call of the Wretched Sea, which is excellent company to keep. As “The Bunker of Life” begins, it brings drawn out ominous guitar notes creeping over a steady strummed bass before finally kicking in with the heavy – hard-hitting guitar notes and drums start to strike while the keys are used to add atmospheric tones. Around 2:40 the first vocals chime in from singer and keyboardist Kostas Panagiotou. His cleans are perfect for this type of doom. He doesn’t belt it out or even really croon, so much as bring a chanting style of singing like a cult hymn.
Panagiotou continues to show his worth as his lowly death vocals rumble into the mix. Throughout the album he regularly trades off between the two styles, even having moments that sound like a conversation in musicals such as the 4: 48 mark in “The Bunker of Life.” Each performer takes their moment to shine on this album. Ivan Zara’s guitar seems to constantly be playing a style more akin to a drawn out and slowed down lead much like in blues where the lead keeps driving in place of a true riff as the other band members keep the traditional structure of a song in place. In the rare moments when the band picks up speed, drummer Ivano Olivieri hammers the hell out of his kit to make those passages truly impactful. All throughout, Riccardo Veronese’s bass anchors the songs and keeps them driving forward. At times his bass slowly strums while everything else drops out giving off the effect of thunder in the distance before the big hit levels the listener when the guitar and drums come crashing back in.
No single section of “The Bunker of Life” overstays its welcome, with the players regularly switching up what’s happening to prevent listeners from being bored. Throughout the 30 minutes of this opening track the band does a superb job of creating tension and building momentum as well. The issue is they never quite fully deliver on that momentum or release that tension in full. At 9:10, the song speeds up and the kick drums really start to move the song toward a big moment, but at 10:28 it just drops back to a quiet passage. At 16:00, more big guitar hits and heavy drumming progress, but after about a minute and a half the track reverts to clean singing and a steady bass run. Then again at around the 22-minute mark we get a tremolo riff run with some kick runs to back it and build it. By 23:36 tensions and momentum are at their peak as the keys hit higher notes and at 24:16 those driving psuedo-leads from the guitar come back to really ramp it all up, for it to suddenly drop out again and allow the remaining minutes to slowly dwindle down with some great keyboard work.
“Babylon’s Hanging Gardens” follows and acts as a super condensed version of the opener at only about 6 minutes. It starts with a drawn out guitar riff trading off with slowly plucked bass notes. Then the cleans start chanting in carrying steady tones that add to the drama. At 2:30 there’s a nice atmospheric break and then at 3:45 some capitol-H heavy comes crashing out of nowhere. This song hits a better dynamic than the opening track and it’s slowly picked ending and choral tones help bring the audience back down before getting smacked with the heavy again on the opening of the next track.
With a runtime 16:35, “Alexandria’s Library” follows a similar path to “The Bunker of Life.” This one is more immediate with lumbering guitars and death metal vocals. Much like the opener it goes slow, low and constantly creates tension and momentum. This track carries one of the best moments of the album at 13:00 when the guitars and drums start to gallop and almost blast to deliver on the buildup. Ultimately, that section only lasts for about a minute and could have been even more impactful if it were drawn out and varied up for a bit longer.
Closing track “Greeting Mausolus’ Tomb” is the shortest at 4:23 and truly serves to just wrap up the story that Panagiotou so beautifully put together. His closing monologue is done in a Shakespearean fashion as he becomes more enraged and harsh with each passing line delivered. A solid closer for the concept of the album, but not necessarily a standalone song.
This review took me a long time to piece together for two reasons: 1. finding time to sit and actively listen to a 30-minute song can be tough and 2. Discovering what was stopping me from totally loving this album didn’t click until I recently rewatched The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Allow me to elaborate…
That film does a great job building tension and momentum, both as a singular film and as part of a trilogy. There are moments of quiet tension like Gollum arguing with Smeagol while his compatriots sleep, there are mid-level conflicts like The March of the Ents or removing Saruman’s hold on the King of Rohan, and then there’s the delivery of all that tension and buildup during the Battle of Helms Deep.
Dust of Aeons feels like The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers without the battle of Helms Deep. That movie would still be great without it, but ultimately it wouldn’t live up to its potential or deliver on the promises the other scenes make if that epic conclusion never occurred. That’s how Towards Atlantis Lights’ debut feels. There are masterful scenes, a stellar story and every member shines, but the big payoff just isn’t there.
I still recommend giving this album a listen and I know I will be keeping their name on my radar because they can only go up from here. They’re only a few dynamic moments and shorn up song structures away from their grandiose Battle of Helms Deep moment and that’s a future I want to hear.
Dust of Aeons by Towards Atlantis Lights was released March 5th by Transcending Obscurity Records and can be purchased here.