Release Date: February 16th 2015
From the folks who brought you Hercules...
There's just one word to describe this album upon first listen: haunting. From start to finish, 'Beneath Abyss' is an inspiring effort that gets the balance just right between beauty and destruction.
Caelestia (ex-Me and Myself), is possibly the most solid musical unit to emerge from Greece, a country unknown for its contribution to the Metal scene. Many will probably scratch their heads and frown at the very concept of Greek Metal, having been fed Metal by American and British labels. Inverse Records, a Finnish label, are to thank for bringing this ghostly sound to the masses.
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Since forming in 2012, the outfit has lost two members (Harris Kiriakopoulos and Aggelos Kousakis) only to be swiftly replaced by Vassilis Thomas (guitars) and Nick Yngve (drums), who took the band into new exciting territory. It was around this point, in 2013, when Me and Myself became Caelestia.
It marked a noble decision to leave behind the alternative Metal vibe, and focus more on producing "female-fronted melodic death Metal" (what a mouthful!). As they did with their debut album 'Last Wish', Caelestia decided to call in reinforcements.
Bjorn "Speed" Strid, accomplished vocalist for Soilwork, and Sodom's epic stick-master Markus Freiwald, were both called to arms for Caelestia's first album under their new alias. They were clearly keen to make an impact, and with such prominent names in the credits, an impact was guaranteed.
Let's start with the opening track. When it comes to albums, there is a great amount of pressure on that first track. In essence, it decides for the listener whether they stay for the rest of the ride, or abandon ship altogether.
'Malleus Maleficarum', or 'The Secret Cult', is an intro to beat all intros. An instant mood-setter, the eerie choir vocals, synthesisers and repetitive bass drum transport you from the comfort of your own bedroom into a vivid nightmare. A tense atmosphere starts to build without you even realising, and by the time the music kicks in, you're laying in the foetal position with your teddy bear (even Metalheads need a cuddle sometimes).
But then, BANG. From seemingly nowhere, a storm of down-tuned riffage descends from the sky, accompanied by a wave of relentless drumming. It's an overwhelmingly powerful start to the song, especially as a follow-up to the symphonic intro. Part of me was expecting to hear elements of down-tempo doom Metal, but the moment the drums kicked in, my expectations were blown out of the water.
There's something Slayer-esque about the initial thrash riffs, but any ideas you might conceive about a "rip-off" soon disappear, when the demonic screams of bassist/composer Nikos Palivos come into play. You might not be able to understand a lot of what's being said, but that doesn't seem to matter.
Followed by the pure death-thrash verses is a chorus that adds some sensitivity to the mix. Dimitra Vintsou's voice is like food for the ears, but very haunting when thrown over the evil atmosphere Caelestia creates in this memorable opener.
The album continues to impress after the first track, focusing more on melody than just straight-forward aggression. In 'Gate Of Shadows', for instance, there is a melody line that the entire track revolves around, and yet at no point does it feel cliché. There seems to be some classical influence within the guitar-playing which, while not entirely original, adds the desired complexity demanded by today's melodic death Metal fans.
After a well-placed eerie instrumental, 'Blessing Of Tragedy' takes the album back up to headbanging pace, with the appropriately nicknamed Bjorn "Speed" Strid contributing some flawless vocal work to the mix. His experience with Soilwork is evident throughout, shown by his ruthless screams and powerful voice.
The melodic approach in 'Gate Of Shadows' is continued in 'Blessing Of Tragedy', and even with Strid attacking the microphone, the band manages to maintain a sense of identity. You won't be fooled into thinking it's a Soilwork track. This is 100% Caelestia.
It seems that the Greeks were keen to experiment with different tempos in their latest effort, going into territory that well-established bands daren't tread. And this is just what they do with the title track 'Beneath Abyss'. Taking a more progressive route, they shift from thrash, to groove, to something entirely different. This is also seen in 'Mi Ultima Vida' and 'Lake Of Decay', the latter of which even ventures into electronic territory, adding but yet another genre to the huge collection on this diverse record.
There's one track that takes a couple of listens before you can fully appreciate its content, and that's 'Secret Rite', which features Sodom drummer Markus Freiwald. His machine-gun drumming sounds somewhat out-of-place when first matched up to Dimitra's soft singing. But as the song progresses, something within the mix just clicks, and suddenly that odd contrast becomes somewhat of a trademark.
Towards the end of the album, a second instrumental called 'Silent Despair' prepares your ears for the last sprint to the finish line. With the operatic choir vocals, fast-tempo orchestra and synthesisers, this track could have been pulled straight from the Game Of Thrones soundtrack (which isn't necessarily a bad thing).
Finishing off in epic symphonic fashion, Caelestia close the album with 'The Rise Of Hidden Nature'. It's an up-beat evil anthem, with some of the most intricate guitar solos found in the entire album. The track is reflective of the record's epic journey, encapsulating all the styles used throughout.
From thrash to electronic, groove to symphonic, this album marks the beginning of a new era in Metal. The Greeks are coming.