Released: 2003, Black Lotus Records
Reviewer: Night of the Realm
This release rather caught me by surprise because, quite frankly, I was expecting this silly-looking disc billed as “symphonic black metal” to be complete and utter goth-crap. I’m pleased to anounce that I was wrong.
Formed in 1997, and with only one previous album to their name, Hortus Animae already have a strong working formula behind their music, blending doom, death, even some thrash, as well as symphonic gothic elements and atmospheric passages.
Despite my initial trepidation, I am pleased to anounce that I enjoyed WALTZING MEPHISTO in its entirety. Is this “imposing and majestic black metal” as the label claims? Not a chance. What we end up with is difficult to describe, but imagine taking the best moments of the latest Old Man’s Child album: IN DEFIANCE OF EXISTENCE (see my review of that album in the May archives), and adding in some early Dark Tranquillity, a little Opera IX, maybe some Rakoth or Arcturus, and finish it up with some symphonic atmospheric elements.
A seven second intro simply titled “.” (How queer is that?). We move along into “Enter” which opens with a great marching-paced riff and some delicate backing keys. At about 1:30, however, the song explodes into an absolute frenzy. The amazing part here is the drumming, provided by Grom, who also performed in Doomsword, quite possibly the best band ever to come from Italy. (I can argue here for Stormlord as well, and their drummer David Folchitto as Italy’s finest). Grom manages to pull off some insane combinations of kicks and rides not only through the fury of “Enter,,” but throughout the album as well. Come to mention it, the last half of the song sounds quite a bit like a Stormlord tune. “A Lifetime Obscurity part II” features myriad different elements, from doomy Sabbath licks to a crazy keyboard piece reminding me of some kind of insanity circus music throughout its eleven minute duration. “Springtime Deaths” is perhaps my favourite song on the album. Starting out on a doomy goth note for the first 90 seconds or so, it proceeds into what I can only describe as “goth-thrash” with a great solo at 2:50 or so. The momentum of the song, however, is broken by another melancholic goth interlude before closing out with another thrashy outburst. “Souls of the Cold Wind” is another fast song bordering on thrash that is slightly less schizophrenic in nature, but still changes from thrash into pseudo-power metal, and finally into doom. “Welcome the Godless” can only be described as insane. Total thrash riffs drive the song, and the drum solo in the closing moments seals it in place.
Perpaps the most interesting song on the album is a trio of covers rolled into one track. Mayhem’s “Freezing Moon,” an Italian piece titled “Terzo Incontro” from Il Balletto Di Bronzo, and Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” (The EXORCIST theme, for those of you who don’t know).
All in all, WALTZING MEPHISTO turns out to be quite an interesting album. Hortus Animae show that they are full of ideas, but they have yet to fully develop their songwriting skills into a more coherent and focused delivery. I urge fans of atmospheric or gothic extreme metal to check out this young Italian band, and I look forward to hearing what the future has in store for them.