And Now The Owls Are Smiling – Epitaph (2022) – Review

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And Now The Owls Are Smiling - Epitaph - Album Cover

I won’t hide it from you. The RMR crew had severe issues with some parts of atmospheric doom, blackened or not. Specifically with bands that wasted our time with useless shenanigans that add zero value to the overall offering. And these still get our mutual blood boiling all over again – even after all that time.1) So, we kept our ears out of that particularly odd corner of the extreme metal multiverse for a while. Because somehow, this ‘thing’ almost always collided with good metal craftsmanship so far.

So, should we poke this particular bear all over again? I guess we should – and see in how much hot water this will land us this time. Ladles out, serious bailing might be afoot!

Or – perhaps – we won’t end up in a water-filled cauldron over a fire with dancing cannibals around it after all. Because – for once – And Now The Owls Are Smiling‘s new and last record Epitaph soars a few miles nearer to those dark clouds of dread than Dirges ever did back in 2021. And perhaps releasing an album one year after the last one suddenly is a good thing after all. Who knows, right?

The band’s newest offering still seriously ails from that malady to mangle already incomprehensive vocals somewhere way back in the mix. To drive home that elusive sentiment of miserable doom, perhaps? I frankly prefer having words hollered straight into my face. To feel the devil’s stinking breath, like. But Nre here chose the odd route for larger parts of the record. Yet again, those anguished screams are a tad more prevalent than before, so there’s one positive stepping stone already.

But the fact that this whole concoction firmly roots itself in Black Metal and – for longer stretches – in Post Black saves its teary bacon somewhat, though. You’ll find pretty sturdy references to old masters like Bathory for instance. Others meander over Atmospheric Black Metal tropes with some resemblance to Caladan Brood or – again – Summoning. Nre here included enough variation into Epitaph to keep things interesting as well. You’ll suddenly plunge into Drudkh-like soundscapes, complete with some scraps that Felled used to describe their preferred backcountry.

But the main improvement over the last record truly is the storyline it uses to much better effect. The RMR crew found renewed purpose, some tasty progression that inexorably marches towards a finite end. ANTOAS’ sole artist also went for longer track titles, a remarkable change that works pretty well. Every Day Another Piece Of Me Is Removed serves as an ice-cold reminder of what is to come further down. Blackened tremolos, drenched in ’90s style Black Metal riffs surround the desperate screams far in the background. Yet again, a pretty neat improvement over their last record.

In Darkness, Light Candles So The Demons Can Find Me. Now that’s a beast of a track name and – also – a beast of a track. A tastily powerful melodic Black Metal song full of atmospherics, and saddened excruciating hurt. A song that could exist on any of Brood’s utterings or live freely in one of Summoning’s castles. Winter’s Elegy finds its (somewhat listless) Part II with a more or less direct continuation of the first installment. Albeit that we’re still not sure if this is a genial reference to Myrkur’s folksy powers or yet another crime Elf Queen could have committed. Probably a mix of both with an unholy penchant for Ms. Bruun.

As of that track, Nre here sadly lost the pretty refreshing flow that installed itself. So, are we back to a Dirges-like unevenness? Not quite. Epitaph stubbornly continues its death march towards its predictable bitter end, and that gives it purpose. The somewhat bewildering choices made by the artist somewhat caught us off guard, though. Like the blackened and metalized cover of Radiohead’s Street Spirit (Fade Out) that makes intellectual sense but still feels like a cheap ending to a – after all – pretty good record.

You see, the artists from Clobber Records usually get some special attention over here. They often sport albums bordering on the bizarre, kinda out-of-the-box, but almost never in the realm of the unreachable. And ANTOASEpitaph here is one of those. Atmodoom and its variants often sorely disappointed the RMR crew over the years. So, we’re glad that we took the challenge and covered a truly remarkable piece from one of our less liked genres.

At the same time, we’re a bit sad to see the artist end his project. And that, just at the moment when the band showed some real bite after 6 years of meandering soul-searching. Even the owls will be unhappy that our first review of this project will also be its last.

Record Rating: 6/10 | LabelClobber Records | Web: Facebook (band)
Release Date: 2 September 2022


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