So, my first time experiencing the music of one-man black metal identity Suhnopfer, from France, but a very rewarding one. To be fair, while I don’t mind Black metal, I’d be the first to say that it’s far from my favourite genre of the dark arts. Why? Well, mostly because so much of it appears to be utter dross, with feeble attempts to excuse sloppy songwriting under the banner of having “primitive” production. When I saw the description for this album come up in the impending releases list though, it really caught my attention, being described as epic and melodic black metal.

So how was the description? Pretty bloody apt, as it goes. “Hic Regnant Borbonii Manes” is going to be great for anyone who has fond memories of the mid to late nineties releases of bands like Dissection or Sacramentum, with that ornate and icy guitar tone thrashing out baroque melodies that are as sharp as they are fragile sounding. The drumming is pretty frantic too, sounding like our solo musician is trying to race himself to the finish line, until some of those absolutely killer mid-tempo sections kick in. Despite some of the break-neck speeds though, Suhnopfer have the absolute patience to know that black metal isn’t anything without atmosphere, and boy, does this album have it. From the chanted, medieval sounding introduction, through the shrieked rasps struggling to emerge from the gloom and the echo, this is a bloody mysterious album. That’s a great thing. Special mention has to be made for the album cover too, with a ruined castle type of affair in the grip of a tooth-filled giant tentacle thing. Tremendous.

There’s some fine songwriting chops on display too. With most of the songs weighing in at over eight minutes, there’s plenty of scope for dynamism, and while the general frenetic speed of the tracks might suggest that this is on the more brutal end of things, it’s actually of some considerable credit that even during the light speed sections of music, there’s plenty of interesting things going on. There’s a really epic sense of what’s going on here. Those minor key harmonies that erupt from out of nowhere, only to dissolve into the chaos really hook into the brain and they don’t let go.

In terms of criticism? Well, from time to time I think there could be a bit of judicious pruning (some eight minute songs might work just as well as five minuters), but that seems like quite a petty and minor point. It’s not a perfect album, to be sure – from time to time I think it sounds a little thin on the production, but again, it really doesn’t distract from 99% of the music. As it is, even with these two minor points, it’s probably the best black metal that I’ve heard in…well…the last couple of years? It’s just the way I like it – melodic, fast and mysterious. What more could you ask for?

(8.5/10 Chris Davison)