Originally formed in 1994 on the island of Rhodes, the Greek epic/pagan black metal entity Macabre Omen has had an inconsistent existence. Originally operating out of its native land as a band, it eventually became a one man project for multi-instrumentalist Alexandros as he relocated to London around the turn of the century. Along the way, a few demos and EPs had been released although it wasn’t until 2005 that the band’s debut album ‘The Ancient Returns’ saw the light of day. For that release, Alexandros recruited the guitarist and drummer of Italy’s cult Frostmoon Eclipse. Today, and still in England, the main man has enlisted the services of drummer extraordinaire T.J.F. Vallely for the band’s long awaited follow-up, ‘Gods of War – At War’.
‘I See, the Sea’ opens with nautical effects – a creaking ship, the sea, gulls – before godly voices summon forth a glorious Hellenic groove. Melodic and heavy, riffs swirl around with some great bass/drum interplay in support. The one potentially divisive aspect, which will presumably make or break the record for some listeners, is the main vocal style which begins as it means to go on: in a sort of wild, wheezy rasp. If you’re not a fan (I happen to like it) then perhaps it’s possible to see beyond this detail as musical storms are conjured and shades of Rotting Christ cast by the heavily melodic black metal on offer. In fact, Macabre Omen’s music proves to be an epic, thoroughly absorbing voyage in which imagery is vividly created and changed from song to song. The title track bursts out discordantly in keeping with its subject matter and features raw solos that emerge from mist shrouded rhythms, while ‘Man of 300 Voices’ incorporates a bit of pleasant, rousing acoustic work and accompanying wind instrumentation to great effect.
And getting back to those vocals, it’s not as if they don’t adapt along with the music. At their most extreme they ring of early Burzum on ‘Hellenes do not Fight like Heroes – Heroes Fight like Hellenes’; elsewhere they shift from demonic rumbles to dramatic narration. Their most emotive form however is the clean sung style which recalls Bathory’s epic conquests. And one song in particular fits this mold from start to finish. The aptly titled ‘From Son to Father’ is an ultimately proud, victorious ode to lineage which brings the ancient bond between progeny and parent vividly to life. Incorporating narration from both parties in this relationship (the father seemingly talking from the distant past), as well as heartfelt singing over acoustic guitar, it’s a brilliant track which encompasses the adversity of life and experience. Beyond this masterful display, we are thrown into battle by ‘Rhodian Pride, Lindian Might’ and put to another soulside test by ‘Alexandros Odes A and B’, which between them evoke a range of superb atmospheres to close the record.
With ‘Gods of War – At War’ Macabre Omen deliver an album which is epic in the most admirable sense of the word. For all the feeling and heroism conveyed, not one iota of power is lost along the way. Despite vocals which won’t be everyone’s cup of nectar, there is little flamboyant or unnecessary about the black metal here. As the likes of Bathory, Rotting Christ and Primordial have all demonstrated, the concepts of ‘epic’ and ‘metal’ can be melded seamlessly. To Macabre Omen’s immense credit, this is exactly what they have done with their sophomore effort. In closing, it’s a journey well worth investing time and money in if you appreciate the above totems of metal.