My first encounter with Order of Orias was around the time of its split with Aosoth about five years ago – and what a collaboration that was. Splits and EPs often feel more liberating than full length releases, unbound as they are by the demands of prolonged consistency and the perhaps sometimes strained creative spirit that inevitably comes with longer releases. Both outfits – and I’m almost certain they would not take offence at me saying this – unleashed around 10 minutes of steam-hammer percussion and tremolo-swamped blackened hell. When I got my hands on the band’s only full release a few weeks later it appeared the intensity was no accident. 2011’s Inverse may be sagged a little in the middle and perhaps even sacrificed some of its subtleties beneath its relentless, vast and brutal, blackened march. But only a fool would doubt the mastery contained in tracks like Irreverence, Concealer and Void.
The release of Ablaze has forced fans of good ol’ ‘triple O’ into a painful waiting game despite what may have appeared to be a bit of a roll back then. Could they deliver a devastating full-length the arc of the band’s output all those years ago seemed to promise? Ablaze instantly feels more ‘black’ than ‘blackened’. More textured than the outright bludgeoning of Inverse as the band settles into a pace that is far more suited to the cult worshipping vibe contained within. The layered atmospherics that Snares and Thorns achieves, for example, would have been almost unthinkable on Inverse. The relative – and it is all relative – calm the track achieves makes the ensuing blast and sinew-straining guitar work of Crowned in Brass all the more effective before segueing, as it does, into a mournful, almost blusey swing.
Rather than pile-driving through proceedings with blackened anger, Ablaze lets the burning cinders of aggression glow red hot before casting them into the wrathful rage that befits the album’s title (and the pre-release track Raging Idols). But there is also a clean simplicity to Ablaze that sets Order of Orias aside from other outfits deeply exploring occult leanings. There is none of the obscure complexity that will sometimes leave you drowning in the ambitions of bands so determined to express their dark devotion (including several of the Order’s label mates). Ablaze may have plenty in common with the likes of Shrine of Isalablis, Ascension and Thy Darkened Shade (all great bands) but it maintains a single-minded purpose in delivery that means Ablaze, oddly for an album that has been so long to appear, clocks in at less than 40 minutes. Perhaps the dark French black metal hordes make better suggestions as bedfellows (and, in fact, VI and Order of Apollyon’s BST helped out on the mastering the album).
There’s a crisp and sinister production, a malevolent and lurching groove, and what some might almost identify as melody that holds up Ablaze. Subtle but far from indulgent or overly progressive like occult-riven albums can sometimes feel. But is there something of the roaring, thunderous cacophony of Inverse missing here? Or maybe it’s just that nigh-on a decade is a long time even in black metal. Still, it’s tempting to think that this would have been better timed had it appeared keenly in the wake of the Aosoth split. It feels like some of the bands I had Order of Orias lined up against when I first picked this up (Schammasch and Ascension for example) have moved on significantly since their releases of a decade ago. It leaves me wondering whether Ablaze is almost a little out of time. But despite its appalling tardiness, Ablaze still broils with distinguishing flourishes and just about manages to shine through the shadows of a decade of expectation. Even if this feels like an album that should already have been supplanted by a mighty successor, it’s good to know the pulsing heart within Order of Orias is still beating hard.
(7.5/10 Reverend Darkstanley)