Eye-of-Solitude-Canto-III1The concept of a guided tour around a city centre is, on the face of it, a decent idea. All the better if it’s a night tour of all the area’s more spooky haunts. I’d understand if this one isn’t your bag though – having some pimply pre-pubescent in a bleeding Scream mask jumping out at you can inspire one to violence. How about a guided tour down through the nine circles of hell, though? Yes? In that case, you’ve come to the right place.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century allegorical epic poem Inferno (the first part of his monster work The Divine Comedy), where his guide Virgil takes him down into the belly of the Earth, has played a hugely influential role in the development of the dark arts both directly and indirectly. It seems such a natural progression, then, for heavy metal bands (Iced Earth, Sepultura, Meshuggah, HIM, etc. ad infinitum) to look upon the visions of Dante as truly inspirational. London’s Eye Of Solitude, with new album Canto III, are the latest to have a crack at providing the ultimate soundtrack to his prose.

From every angle, their soul-sapping, funereal doom is perfectly suited to the role and, quite honestly, if at some point during its running time you don’t feel overwhelmed then you have a harder heart than my own. I felt overwhelmed just looking at that gorgeous album cover (by Mortal Torment’s own Giannis Nakos) of Charon the ferryman navigating the river Acheron. I mean, just look at the intensity of the colours and the gentle tapering of the misty point where sky meets water.

Naturally attempting to live up to the imagery, one instantly knows the music is not going to be for the faint of heart. Take the lyrics. When they are delivered at little more than a skull-shaking rumble, all frustrating attempts to decipher those words that lurk behind it is going to be an impossible task. However, it does seem safe to assume that somewhere amidst the fear-mongering, the infamous (and much abused) line “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate” (meaning “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”) will feature in some form.

So, wind up the volume, sink back and close your eyes and let your imagination run amok. Follow these instructions and you will discover that from the thunder and lightning as the first act “Between Two Worlds” opens, right through to the close of the sixth act as dawn breaks “In The Desert Vast”, Eye Of Solitude have created a gripping, at times bludgeoning and often torturous experience. When the double-kick isn’t letting rip and the infamous soul-sucking roar of lead vocalist Daniel Neagoe isn’t kicking you in the gut, the effective insertion of featherlight segues encourages your mind to wander off and explore the landscape that the music inhabits.

“Where the Descent Began”, for instance, is a track that features a pounding heartbeat effect, echoing footsteps, cries of anguish and a wedge of breathy vocal. There’s also guest spots from Anton Rosa on vocals and Dmitry “Casper” Rishko on violin (both from Russia’s Dominia). “He Who Willingly Suffers” features a gentle piano riff and a faltering spoken vocal, both so restrained and so doused in emotion that they will leave you reeling. “The Pathway Has Been Lost” has sobbing, whilst “I Sat In Silence” is all about Neagoe letting go of his very deepest, bowel-emptying growl.

The critic in me would have preferred a grittier guitar tone on the lead solos (they’re a bit too electro, a bit too synthetic), and an even tougher, meatier bite to the doom with a more intense degree of layering. Also, hearing more of the varying types of torture suffered by the sinners and their vocalised anguish would have ramped the fear up several notches.

Happily, Dante’s Inferno is this year’s current hot topic, thanks to Dan Brown’s latest adventurous novel. That particular release is a timely reminder of just how much frivolous tat on the subject there really is out there. Fear not though, if you are you still a lost soul who fancies getting closer to a taste of what hell is like then, next to the great work itself, Canto III is one of your better options. It is a distressingly cruel, grief-soaked and ultimately tormenting journey that Eye Of Solitude have presented here. You know you have sinned. Now prepare to regret and repent.

(7.5/10 John Skibeat)