Melodic black metal may be an oxymoron to some, but over the years the evolution of black metal has produced some stunning releases that remain on my play list to this day. However, for every outstanding release, there are endless mediocre releases that aren’t bad per se, but just lack that certain something, and this makes it all the more satisfying when you come across one of the gems, particularly by a band you were previously unfamiliar with.

I first heard ‘Sounds of the Vortex’ in September last year when it was originally released, and have listened to it numerous times since then allowing my relationship with it to grow, understanding and cherishing many of its nuances and subtleties. I was therefore really pleased to coincidentally be allocated it for review now that it is being re-released on Nuclear Blast.

The opus gets underway with the title track, which is really an intro, opening with howling wind and then simple but effective riffs creating an appropriately chilling atmosphere before ‘Cosmic Fear’ bursts into life with a battering all-out assault which is then clinically incised by sharp guitar riffs. Rasping vocals kick in setting the glacial tone for the rest of album reminiscent of Dissection or perhaps their compatriots in Thulcandra.

‘The Clouds of Damnation’ follows with over seven minutes of uncompromising yet melodic maleficence, this time perhaps a little more in the vein of mid era Norwegian black metal such as Immortal. Mid-way through the track, shredding guitar work takes primacy, building to a suitably crushing climax before the pace slows and normal service is resumed with intense wintry black metal. Atmospheric, clean guitar work opens ‘Cross the Bridge to Eternity’ which keeps the momentum going with its sweeping melodies before ‘Illuminate the Night Sky’ crashes in with its harsh vocals and battering nefarious assault. As the track builds, more clean guitar work creates a sense of respite before the more familiar guitar crunch sound oppressively returns as the song builds to a fitting climax.

The twin guitar approach works well on ‘The Great Mortality’, complementing the song structure as it sweeps over numerous variations in style and pace before ‘Fields of the Unknown’ opens. A military style drumming builds into the more familiar blast beats, and abrasive riffing giving the track an almost feels triumphant, perhaps with a pagan tinge, before building to a climax that didn’t feel so much a finale as an ending.

The professionalism on display here in terms of song writing and musicianship, showcased by an excellent production, belies the fact that this is the Germans’ debut offering. Their future is indeed bright (in a bleak, grim black metal way of course!) and I shall be looking for the chance to catch them live.

( 8/10 Andy Pountney)