Some bands, such as Oblivion or Enchanter, make me scratch my head at the fact that they’re completely unknown, as they rule extremely hard and are similar to some more well-known bands (Sanctuary and Fates Warning, respectively). Clearly some metalheads just aren’t willing to go the extra mile and find the hidden gems – because plenty of people would go apeshit over those two acts, I’m pretty confident. A band like MaelstroM though – their obscurity is no surprise whatsoever – in fact I’d be surprised if they were well-known. Not because they suck, but because they’re so absurdly esoteric; neoclassical power/speed/thrash with extremely progressive song structures, random acoustic segments, and proto-death metallish yells alternated with really, really fucking strange and off-putting cleans. Add in songs that average around 7 minutes in length, and you have an inaccessible demo by some no-name power/thrash band.
Domine has received a fair amount of attention for their 1997 debut Champion Eternal and their subsequent albums, many of which also cover the subject of Elric of Melnibone. Elric is the subject of Michael Moorcock’s epic fantasy saga which began in the 1960s and became an exceptionally popular subject for 80s metal, likely due to the character’s pale skin, self reflectiveness, and, nihilism- qualities to which many metal fans could relate. Moorcock’s own love of rock music, which went as far as to actively work with bands like Deep Purple and Hawkwind, probably made his works even more accessible to those desiring to make metal music. While Domine was far from the first metal band to utilize his works as a source of inspiration, it was one of the first not from the UK or the US, and thus something of a novelty, to an extent at least.
Existence doesn’t sound much like anyone else; they sounded even less like anyone else in 1990. It seems that they may have been influenced by early Italian heavy/power metal like Adramelch or Dark Quarterer, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Certainly Manilla Road is something that doesn’t sound too far off, especially their more atmospheric songs like “Into the Courts of Chaos,” “Helicon,” or “Dragon Star.” Really, though, this might all be coincidence, especially considering Existence’s first demo came out in 1989, not very long after Adramelch’s Irae Melanox, and before the most similar Manilla Road album, 1990’s The Courts of Chaos. Another thing is that even calling it Adramelch + Manilla Road doesn’t really get to the heart of the music. Stylistically it’s pretty much entirely different from anything else I’ve heard in metal. The band name should probably be some indication of this; it has a very mellow atmosphere and a very odd tempo, often speeding up for a little while just to slow down again a few seconds later. It’s clearly power metal, but it very rarely reaches anything I’d consider “aggressive,” or even really triumphant or bombastic, for the most part.
Epic heavy metal is one of those few musical genres that still remains largely unexplored, and even more so in 1992. In fact, in 1992 a metal band of any sort had to be fairly bold to release an album and expect it to gain them a profit of any sort, as metal was quickly on the decline and the Seattle-based monstrosity called grunge was quickly on the rise. However, James Shellberg and his cohorts seemed to have no concern with popularity and success at all throughout their career, as is evident through their very esoteric musical style as much as the date of their releases. Despite the lack of commercial success with his previous band, Enchanter, Shellberg would not be deterred, quickly putting together a new mishmash of individuals and giving them the moniker “Longings Past”.
Since the conception of metal, myriads of bands have dwindled in obscurity, taking it upon themselves to release only a few songs over one or two demos or singles before vanishing from the face of the earth, never to return again. We generally tend to polarize these bands based on the fact that they have so little material that it’s not likely to be diverse enough to facilitate a mixed opinion; thus the band is either thrown out the window as complete garbage, or elevated to a legendary status of a band untarnished by mediocrity, and, if they somehow reformed today, could certainly do no wrong. Enchanter falls into the latter category, releasing only eight songs over the span of two demos and a single in the late 1980s, but in this case, every song was absolutely killer, making for a spectacular compilation album and thrusting the band, at least in my mind, onto a pedestal of the grandest heights.
1990 was a pretty strange time for epic heavy metal, especially for Greece. The early 80s saw the beginning of epic metal, with releases from the grandfathers, Manilla Road and Manowar, as well as some lesser known acts, such as Legend and Dark Quarterer. The mid-to-late 80s saw a small wave of derivative acts, such as Baron Steele, Valkyrie, and Martiria, spring up in various locations (mostly from the U.S. and Italy). The movement would start to pick up again in the early-to-mid 90s, with acts like Longings Past, Wotan, and Crush, but ’89-’92 was a pretty barren time for Mediterranean epic metal; the founding fathers were mostly broken up, and the second wave hadn’t taken off yet for the most part. Enter Greece’s Ageless Wisdom.
There are masterpieces, and then there are masterpieces. What I mean to say is, an album I might describe as a “masterpiece” usually tends to become so in my perception in one of two ways: the first is the type in which it’s immediately, or at least quickly, obvious that it’s a challenging, cerebral album, one that has the potential to be a “masterpiece” in some way, but which takes a lot of time to fully digest and understand. Albums I would put in this category include Fates Warning’s Awaken the Guardian, Psychotic Waltz’s A Social Grace, and Holocaust’s Covenant. The other kind, though, doesn’t necessarily immediately (or ever) strike me as overly cerebral or complex or challenging; it might not even seem especially interesting or ambitious upon the first few listens. This sort of masterpiece is more subtle in a way; its brilliance creeps up on you gradually, and at some point you suddenly realize everything works together perfectly, or the juxtaposition of melodies just strikes you in a way that you never noticed before. Albums I’d put in this category would include Screamer’s Target Earth, The Mist of Avalon’s Here and After, and, getting more to the point of the review, the self-titled debut from British post-NWOBHM act Full Moon.
Epic metal has grown to be marginally popular in recent years, at least in countries like Italy and Greece, who have adopted a movement that barely even existed in the United States, playing in the style of Manilla Road and Manowar, who, aside from a couple of incredibly obscure acts (Longings Past, Stormbringer) were the only ones playing it for a long time. However, other examples of epic heavy metal, though few and far between, did pop up occasionally during the late ’80s and early ’90s. Ageless Wisdom put out a demo in 1990, Wotan had one in ’93 – but Valkyrie, from the Netherlands of all places, were one of the first to try and capitalize on the sound that the epic metal grandfathers – in this case, Manowar, not Manilla Road – first brought to the world.