Germany may not be the first country people think of when it comes to death metal, but talented bands like Sulphur Aeon have helped to put it on the map over the past decade. Formed in 2010, Sulphur Aeon initially went for a more violent approach to death metal before settling into a mix of methodical, atmospheric build-ups and chaotic outbursts, all while exploring elements of Lovecraftian horror. Five years have passed between The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos and this year’s Seven Crowns and Seven Seals, which is the longest gap the group has had to date, but it’s clear that the extended developmental period has paid off. It doesn’t drastically change what Sulphur Aeon was doing on their previous efforts but further refines it, going for a more expansive sound and once again blurring the lines between traditional death metal and blackened death metal. It does take a few songs to fully move from pretty great to amazing territory, but those peaks will draw listeners back again and again, showcasing that this is still one of the more exciting bands out there that the style has to offer.
“Sombre Tidings” opens things up with a darker, ominous melody that gives you an idea of the type of expansive build-ups the band is going for throughout Seven Crowns and Seven Seals. It’s only a minute long, but it’s an effective mood piece that gets you ready for what is to come. “Hammer From the Howling Void” then comes roaring in with churning riffs and blasting drums, keeping the tension high for its first half with more violent instrumentation that feels like waves continually crashing down on the listener. Around the three-and-a-half-minute mark this subsides in favor of a slower build-up with guitar work that has an almost psychedelic flair to it, before things are whipped back up into a faster attack. There are still some blackened edges to some of the riffs on this album, but it also feels like Sulphur Aeon has pulled in even more influence from outside of metal’s boundaries to add texture and atmosphere to their arrangements. The way this comes together reminds me of some of The Ruin of Beverast’s more recent efforts, particularly on songs like “The Yearning Abyss Devours Us” and the title track, though there are unique nuances that shine through. Admittedly, despite the amount of polish and the intensity of the performances, it did take me a few times through to appreciate the more polished and expansive production when compared to The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos. Seven Crowns and Seven Seals is a little bit cleaner than some of the band’s past discography, but over repeat listens the additional layers start to stand out and I appreciated what they’re going for here. The first few songs also took a bit more time to grow on me, but the run from “Cambrian Sorcery” to “Beneath the Ziqqurrats” contains some of the best arrangements Sulphur Aeon has written to date. Those last two are the longest on the album, but they justify their length and sprawl outwards into haunting melodies that have just as much psychedelia and rock influence as they do black and death metal.
The vocals have gone through a similar expansion when it comes to melody and atmosphere, as not only are there the extremely distorted screams and growls but there is a bit more chanting and other clean ranges on Seven Crowns and Seven Seals. This isn’t necessarily a brand new element for Sulphur Aeon, but it feels like it’s used more frequently this time around and gives a different cadence and feel to the music. “The Yearning Abyss Devours Us” is a great example of how diverse the vocal performance can be, as it starts off with whispers, moves into growls that tower over the recording, and then shift over to gruffer singing that has a bit more of a gothic feel to it. There’s no loss of intensity no matter where the vocals go, and it’s been exciting to hear how the band has continued to branch out in this area on each full length.
It does take a few songs to fully hit its peaks, and the cleaner, fuller production may divide some people, but Sulphur Aeon has still delivered another monster of an album that has some real staying power. They continue to pummel and churn when needed, but there’s more of an emphasis on methodical build-ups and a haunting, hazier atmosphere that lead into some immense climaxes. As with some of Sulphur Aeon’s past discography, this material does need a bit of time to grow on you, but you won’t be disappointed by giving it that chance. Seven Crowns and Seven Seals is available from Ván Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg