Six years may have passed in the mortal realm since 2013’s The White Goddess, but very little has changed in the world of Atlantean Kodex. The Bavarians’ third full-length album is right in line with they’ve released thus far, offering the same post-Solstice brand of doomy epic metal. Crunchy, lo-fi guitar gallops are contrasted by tenor vocals, climbing harmonies, and occasional acoustics with individual songs being driven by drawn-out tempos and a wistfully antiquated aesthetic. But while the Atlantean Kodex formula hasn’t changed all that much on The Course of Empire, the band certainly found ways to tweak it.
Past albums utilized a similar mix of sprawling epics and shorter interludes, but they’ve never been incorporated so seamlessly as they are on here. The songs transition between one another quite smoothly overall and an emphasis on vocal cadences allows the interludes to build into the larger numbers while setting up motifs that pop up later. This is demonstrated early on as “The Alpha and the Occident” gives way to “People of the Moon” in a stirring fashion while introducing a melody that reappears on the title track.
There seems to be a more aggressive undercurrent hiding behind the album’s triumphant presentation. While the songs never go into any sort of speed metal bursts, the drums hit considerably harder even when they’re staying at a mid-tempo march. This, in turn, gives the riffs more weight and the vocals more conviction; the latter in particular put in more direct phrasings that are topped off by the occasional rasp. This is best demonstrated on the muscular “He Who Walks Behind the Years” and the title track, but even the comparably accessible “Lion of Chaldea” gets a pleasant energy surge.
One can also detect a darker flavor on a couple of tracks. “Chariots” starts with particularly ominous symphonics before diving into an intense riff set and “A Secret Byzantium” features some of the album’s creepiest guitar fanfare and doomiest tempos. The placement of “The Innermost Light,” the album’s most serene, vocal-oriented song, in between them was a rather interesting move, but it serves to contrast the darkness rather than offset it.
With The Course of Empire, Atlantean Kodex effectively customizes an already astounding formula. The album doesn’t differ too much from The White Goddess or 2010’s The Golden Bough on the surface, but the easygoing song flow makes for a more cohesive listen and the darker, more aggressive elements give it a distinct flavor. This could’ve been a stagnant retread, especially with the years between efforts, but the band clearly used that time to make the best album they possibly could. You know you’ve got a classic on your hands when the worst you can say is that the closing ambiance runs a little too long. Atlantean Kodex is the greatest epic metal band around and The Course of Empire is their magnum opus thus far.
“People of the Moon”
“Lion of Chaldea”
“A Secret Byzantium”
“He Who Walks Behind the Years”