The trio behind French act Heaume Mortal come from a background embedded in sludge through work with bands such as Cowards, Eibon and Colossus Of Destiny who multi-instrumentalist Guillaume Morlat has all been involved in. The last album by Eibon ‘II’ which came to me via Aesthetic Death in 2013 certainly left its mark so I was naturally interested in hearing the transition from material on that into a more black metal template. There are certainly parallels between the two to be found on this near hour’s-worth of doomy darkness and pure black metal fans should not be too concerned about cross pollination of ideas as on the whole things are kept pretty caustic and real.

Songs are on the whole long and allowed to flow and as we enter the nostalgic darkness of ‘Yesteryears’ the heaving sound is thick and vicious albeit in a slow churning of the earth pace and motion. Vocalist Julien Henri also of Cowards has a raspy and gurgling delivery, it hangs a bit in the back below Jordan Bonnet’s bouncing drums and the razor wire guitar work but sounds suitably horrid and disgusted with whatever he is sermonising about. Acoustic breaks give a feel of foreboding gentleness but not for long as the slow rugged grooves and rolling drum-work bring the weight and tension back to the fore. It’s pretty cinematic in execution and I can see the label mentioning the likes of Cult Of Luna in the same breath as everything else here but when the band hammer in and shake and quake the firmament one has no problem envisaging the end of the world. What I really don’t like here though is a near endless and painful siren sounding riff that is left to agitate the listener and every-time I hear it the effect is like nails down a blackboard. I guess it is there for effect and the next section adding angst ridden shrieks and a wonderful morose melody come as a relief. There’s certainly plenty to focus on here and keep you wondering just what is coming next. The short ‘South Of No North’ is odd and has a deathly groove which along with the gurgling vocals reminds a little of Necrophagia. I also note that Guillaume has played live with Glorior Belli in the past and there’s a bit of that in here to before the band went all Southern on us. Although a complete song in its own right it feels like a prelude to the much longer ‘Oldborn’ which sees the vocals increasing in hideous and blood-thirsty intensity and the musicianship weighing down with them like some sort of demonic horror film theme. Add a gothic grandeur on some of the guitar textures that remind a bit of Secrets Of The Moon and Fields Of The Nephilim and you have a track of many contrasts and atmospheres. A well placed sample which I can’t quite work out adds to things neatly as well.

With the doom infecting the music one may think a natural cover to include would be Ruins Of Beverast but here we get an old favourite in the form of Burzum’s Erblicket die Tochter des Firmament. It seems kind of odd fitting it in the middle of things and one could even see it as completely unnecessary but it naturally embeds itself down in the group’s own world and works well in the whole adding a touch of familiarity that no doubt listeners will appreciate with its cold and mesmerising icy flow. There’s more than a touch of that Burzumic guitar tone carried on over into the gargantuan penultimate track ‘Tongues III and nope I don’t know where the 1st two parts of this exist but can only guess it has developed into what we hear today. The synthesis of doom and blackness is expertly handled along with those ghastly vocals making it epic in construction something congruent with the entire album. With a final gloom laden synthesized and dungeonic instrumental ‘Mestreguira’l culminating things this has been an album that has taken a lot to get into due to the overall complexities involved. Dedication from the listener does however pay off and ‘Solstices’ has proven to be a work of considerable depth bridging the gap between winter and spring nicely.

(7.5/10 Pete Woods)