When one thinks of black metal, they often conjure images of Satan, poor production, and hyper-speed music in their mind. While all those are very valid reasonings, black metal had more than just that. Take Enslaved or Emperor, for example. They possessed all the characteristics of traditional black metal, yet expanded on them with orchestral and harpsichordal compositions, sung vocals, and drums that varied from the blastbeat.
In November last year, Greek progressive black metal act Aenaon released their third studio album Hypnosophy via Code666 Records. Beginning with integrating classical music and avant-garde jazz with black metal then advancing further to more progressive realms, the group’s belief of growth and further explorations over the years only strengthened their attitude towards the variation of musical styles that they incorporate into their newest offering. 2014’s Extance seemed like the final stage of evolution; it was an utterly bizarre (yet satisfying) composition which mainly orbited around atmosphere rather than melodies like it was the case with 2011’s debut Cendres et Sang. Now that the band can see the scope of their experiments, Hypnosophy sounds like a concoction of all of the past ideas united as one vision.
That vision is to transport us to realms of discomfort. This is a place where conditions are totally unpredictable and arrive unexpectedly. Opener “Oneirodynia” exemplifies this erratic mood which just gets multiplied throughout the album. There’s avant-garde, hissing vocals and groovy metal but the multitude of genres displayed in this song are so fantastically contradictory to one another that it shouldn’t work, yet strangely, the dynamic between each transition just seems right. The feeling of discomfort that Hypnosophy portrays doesn’t just come from its unpredictability though. “Fire Walk with Me” takes us, strangely, to cold northern scenes where delicate melodies and lyrics are the only companion in this vast soundscape.
If you can say by now that Aenaon has “a typical sound,” then Hypnosophy does continue to practice it, yet each song still holds its own personal identity. Riff driven songs that make their music a bit “catchy” — take it with a bit of reserve — include “Earth Tomb,” a gambolling “Void” — which sounds all over the place with duelling vocals of Astrous and Sofia Sarri, whose voice adds another dimension to the overall sound. The instrumentation on this piece is one of the most varied; traditional instruments like Saz, Bouzuki, Sitar and Oud, courtesy of Nycriz, are paired flawlessly with Orestis’ saxophone.
Speaking of which, saxophones dot much of the album — I kid you not — and some ambiance and atmospheric touches fill in things as well. While the sax inclusion may sound a little off-putting at first, it actually turns to work in practice. As examples, a beautiful saxophone solo follows a build-up in “Tunnel,” and the instrument’s inclusion on the driving riffs of “Thus Ocean Swells” adds to the urgency of the track in a very positive, distinct way.
Tempo changes follow from track to track on Hypnosophy. Whether it’s the driving feel of the aforementioned “Thus Ocean Swells,” or the slowed-down musings that immediately follow on the closing epic “Phronesis – Psychomagic,” the Greek act’s third full-length effort is certainly a diverse listen throughout much of its playing time. The mentioned closing piece encompasses the general feel of Hypnosophy; within its 15-odd minutes it entails extreme tempo changes, saxophone solos, and black metal riffs that complete and summarize the album with a reflective and almost accomplished feel.
Hypnosophy contains a stronger production than past offerings; the vocals have improved and the saxophone does a good job of aiding in the third offering’s area of distinction. Add to the whole image the beautiful artwork painted by Łukasz Wodyński, with whom the band already worked on previous albums, and you get a complete and strong impression.