Album Title: Autumn’s Dawn, Winter’s Darkness
Label: Northern Silence Productions
Date of Release: 10 March 2023 (physical release: 2 June 2023)
First, we had Autrest, then there was Austere, and now, there’s Fathomage. What a year for atmospheric black metal 2023 is turning out to be. And, interestingly, it isn’t our Scandinavian friends that are bringing this music to our ears. Autrest hails from Brazil, whilst both Austere and Fathomage call Australia home. Seriously, when did the hotter countries decide that they wanted to have a piece of the black metal pie? Not that I’m complaining, though, because ‘Autumn’s Dawn, Winter’s Darkness’ is the hat-trick, the third high quality album of atmospheric black metal this year. And we’ve only just crept into May. I’m convinced that I may have only scratched the surface with this genre, but for now, I’m loving what I’m hearing.
In fact, I have just recently discovered that ‘Autumn’s Dawn, Winter’s Darkness’ is about to be released in physical format on CD, so I immediately put my hand in my wallet and pre-ordered one of the hand-numbered limited-edition versions. That’s how much I like this album, and how much I’m enjoying listening to it.
When doing my research ahead of writing this review, I was shocked to discover that the entity known as Fathomage has been around since 2016, and there are already six albums bearing the illegible logo. That’s a lot of music in a short time. And, what’s even more shocking is the fact that Fathomage is the work of just one man. Simply known as Akul, the Adelaide-based multi-instrumentalist handles everything. And that’s the same here for album number seven, ‘Autumn’s Dawn, Winter’s Darkness’, a sprawling affair comprised of eight tracks spread over 75 minutes.
Naturally, I have to be consistent, and state at the outset that this record is too long. Even for atmospheric black metal standards, this is an epic listen and a real effort to consume in one sitting. But the saving grace here is that the music is generally of a very high standard, meaning that there’s plenty of music to enjoy along the way.
Production-wise, there are few surprises here, with the music heard through a reasonably raw and basic production. As always, I’d have preferred something with more clarity and power but in so doing, it’s arguable that much of the atmosphere that’s prominent within the compositions may have dissipated somewhat. The fuzzy hiss to the fast-picked, frosty riffs creates its own mood, for example, whilst the murkiness that some of the more indistinct passages adds to the overall feel of the record. And, in all honesty, I’ve heard worse. A lot worse. The drums, which I don’t think are programmed have plenty of punch to them, whilst the vocals sound like they ooze from within the overall confines of the music.
What I particularly like about this record from Fathomage, is the way in which Akul varies his approach quite a lot within the songs themselves. Admittedly, at an average of about nine minutes per song, there’s plenty of time for him to do so, but as is immediately evident with the opening title track, there is surprising amounts of variety to be heard. Taking its time to build dark, synth-laden mystery and tension, the track eventually explodes into a slow, ponderous black metal beast, where melody is at the forefront alongside harsh high-pitched screams from the depths, and well-placed blastbeats. For all the raw intensity, there’s a sense of measured calm too, which creates a sense of the epic.
As the song develops, the melodies become more pronounced, before disappearing to be replaced by something all the more confrontational. The staccato riffing is replaced by something more akin to thrash or death metal chunkiness, whilst there are definite hints at something much more NWOBHM in style, offering real groove and bounce. This, in turn, is replaced by a lone acoustic guitar that continues the brooding nature of the track, reminiscent of early Dissection. From there, the song flits between all-out melodic black metal exuberance and quieter acoustic passages, laced with mournful lead guitar lines. It may be nearly twelve minutes long, but it goes by at a reasonable lick, and I don’t tire of it.
I’m reminded of early Evergrey at the outset of ‘A Dawnfire Of Old’ thanks to the chosen melody and synth sounds. These sounds, alongside a tinkling piano remain when the full power of the track is unleashed. It’s a slower composition that is built around a gorgeous melody that is the central golden thread of the song. At times, there’s a doom vibe to proceedings, at others, there’s a palpable sense of utter melancholy, particularly in the quieter sections. It’s easily one of my favourites from the album, such is its undeniable charm and serene strengths.
Equally as beautiful and poignant is ‘The Majesty And Beauty Of A Fallen World’. The melodic intensity is excellent, but so are the thunderous, pounding riffs that take the song on a much darker and menacing tack towards the middle of the composition. I also love the way things build up to create a foreboding wall of sound, before turning on a sixpence to reintroduce those early melodies again, accented heavily by swathes of synths.
Bearing in mind the sheer amount of music to be heard on ‘Autumn’s Dawn, Winter’s Darkness’, I am minded to just reference one further track, lest the review turn into my version of Tolstoy’s ‘War And Peace’. And, whilst there are plenty of candidates, such as the delicate four-minute acoustic instrumental piece, ‘In The Twilight Of The Night’, or the fifteen-minute album closer ‘We Wept Under The Moonlight Shadow’.
However, I’ve chosen ‘Vales Of Darkness’ because it happens to be, on balance, my favourite track on the entire album. Why? For a start, it is laced with the most heartbreakingly poignant melodies, made all the more emotional thanks to the use of gentle keys to underscore the fast-picked black metal riffing. In fact, this is arguably the most symphonic sounding of all the songs, as Akul deploys some of his best and most elegant compositional nous here. Again, we are treated to moments of calm and desolate introspection, albeit rich in melody and textures that work together beautifully. And there’s also room in the latter stages for the melodies to be joined by deep, plaintive male choral vocal sounds to further increase the sense of melancholy. The sorrow is hard to explain, but I give myself over to it, and allow it to wash over me, even when faced with raspy screams, and unforgiving, tumultuous black metal offerings.
Yes, it might be too long, and yes, it might suffer occasionally in the production stakes, but I adore this album. And, if you like a good slab of atmospheric black metal too, I urge you to check out ‘Autumn’s Dawn, Winter’s Darkness’ by Fathomage as quickly as possible.
The Score of Much Metal: 92%