Artist: …And Oceans
Album Title: As In Gardens, So In Tombs
Label: Season Of Mist
Date of Release: 27 January 2023
It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to write a review for a record where I’ve not had any internal wranglings to deal with, or self-inflicted confusion over what I think about it. I’ve had a couple of those already this year, where I tie myself in knots wondering whether I’m wrong, or whether I’ve missed something important within the release. On this occasion, I had none of that. From listen number one, I knew exactly what I felt about the newest release from …And Oceans.
Entitled ‘As In Gardens, So In Tombs’, this is the Finnish black metal band’s xth full-length release, but only their second since returning from their 18-year hiatus. The album that marked their comeback, ‘Cosmic World Mother’, released in 2020, was nothing short of brilliant, so I was hoping for more of the same with this new record.
And boy, have I been given more of the same, because ‘As In Gardens, So In Tombs’ is another scintillating slab of the kind of black metal that I will lap up eagerly all day long, and still crave more.
After the extensive line-up changes that came alongside their return three years ago, the only change this time sees Pyry Hanski replacing Petri Seikkula on the bass. He is therefore joined by guitarists Timo Kontio and Teemu Saari, vocalist Mathias Lillmåns, drummer Kauko Kuusisalo, and keyboardist Antti Simonen. It stands to reason, therefore, that what they have collectively produced here is a continuation of what went before, but if anything, it’s even better.
First off, from the menacing but brief intro to the opening title track, to the final stages of closer, ‘Ambivalent God’ (if you don’t have the benefit of the two bonus tracks that is), there is rarely a misstep or a moment that’s wasted on ‘As In Gardens, So In Tombs’. Maintaining a generally blistering pace, the black metal is melodic, symphonic, majestic, and engaging throughout, injecting a touch of experimentation too, via the odd foray into their industrial-influenced past, or with other welcome and interesting embellishments. I can hear nods towards a plethora of bands that have plundered similar envions too, but never in a derivative or copycat way. This is very much an …And Oceans album, but one that’ll delight fans of the genre.
The majestic symphonic elements of the opening title track get things off to a great start, balancing frenetic blastbeats, sharp riffing, and suitably evil rasping vocals, with epic, sweeping synths that carry with it a beguiling melody and huge atmospheres, especially in the ridiculously catchy chorus of sorts. The mid-section of the track then veers off into those strange recesses of the avant-garde with Arcturus-style piano notes atop strange sci-fi inspired digitised sounds, before we’re again pummelled by the black metal aggression that went before.
‘The Collector And His Construct’ follows swiftly and further ups the ante with a delivery that’s even faster if that’s possible. But the killer ingredient is when the song dips into more mid-paced territory to provide us with a groovy riff that has a hint of Immortal about it. Clearly, these guys know exactly what is required in order to keep the dynamics fresh and the attention of the listener firmly in check. And they do it so effortlessly, creating truly memorable music in the process.
A mention also has to be made for the delectable ‘The Earth Canvas’ with its plaintive, mournful melodies led by the lead guitar lines, whilst ‘Likt Törnen Genom Kött’ has to be up there with the best tracks on this record. The thunderous blastbeats are once again merged with strong, elegant melodies, to create a sound that’s both ferocious and powerful, yet strangely warm and welcoming at the same time.
When reviewing a symphonic black metal band, I wouldn’t normally name check a band like Anathema, but that’s what comes to mind as I listen to the mournful lead guitar lines at points within ‘Within Fire And Crystal’ that also offers hints of folk-tinged whimsy. A name like Cradle of Filth, albeit their earlier sound, is much more expected and these references come through loud and clear via the keyboard sounds adopted for the intro of ‘Cloud Heads’, another track that plays around with electronic sounds and ideas to good effect. Or there’s the ‘Puritanical Misanthropic Euphoria’ era of Dimmu Borgir that is noticeable in the over-the-top (in a good way) hammer horror synths within ‘Inverse Magnification Matrix’ for example.
The award though, for the best song on what is already a stunning record arrives at number seven in the tracklist. ‘Wine Into Water’ manages to pull all of the various …And Oceans elements into a four-minute blast of utter brilliance. Laced with subtle electronic embellishments, it actually begins in the most beautiful fashion, with orchestral synths creating a string melody that’s stunning, one that is carried into the ensuing black metal tumult elegantly. From there, we’re bashed over the head with a groovy, chunky, and menacing riff before another foray into stranger, experimental environs emerges. But either side, the synths and fast-picked lead guitars pull at the heart strings with reprises of the intro melody that’s so captivating.
In all honesty, there’s very little that I would seek to change on this record. Aside from the magnificent music itself, ‘As In Gardens, So In Tombs’ also benefits from fabulous cover artwork and a muscular yet clear production that only serves to enhance the end product. Put it this way, if you liked ‘Cosmic World Mother’, you will almost certainly love ‘As In Gardens, So In Tombs’. Put it another way, if you like quality melodic, symphonic black metal to any degree, you will almost certainly love ‘As In Gardens, So In Tombs’. I know it’s only February, but this is easily the best black metal I’ve heard in 2023 and come year end, it’ll be hard to beat.
The Score of Much Metal: 93%