The story you are about to read did not come easily. And that starts with memories of Sulphur Aeon. Their debut ‘Swallowed by the Ocean’s Tide’ wasn’t necessarily the first of the old school Death Metal revival albums or the most outstanding, but something between the crushing and grandiose sound and their Cthulhu- inspired theme and artwork made the band stand out amongst the pack of new bands. The follow-up ‘Gateways to the Antisphere’ largely followed in those footsteps, albeit a bit less overwhelming and a bit more exploratory into more progressive territories. That both FelixS’ and my interest subsequently dwindled is perhaps a bit telling, and the release of 2018’s ‘The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos’ went by unnoticed. Perhaps you can imagine that we both had a bit of a surprise when we first encountered the band’s latest album, ‘Seven Crowns and Seven Seals’.
The transition from ‘Gateways to the Antisphere’ to ‘The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos’ had not been one without change. Not only did the core of the band expand by the addition of two new members, musically they undergone a small metamorphosis. Yes, the grandiose and thundering sound was still there, but more progressive elements and clean vocals had started to surface that shapeshifted the music quite substantially. And this change further unfolds on the latest album ‘Seven Crowns and Seven Seals’, and to an even greater extent.
To start off with one of the most obvious conclusions coming from the band’s earliest work: The bombastic crushing Heavy Metal of Death is nowadays only part of the story of Sulphur Aeon. As the band emerges from its cocoon in 2023, the soundscape has been vastly expanded into directions that call resemblance to acts like Paradise Lost on their ‘Shades of God’ and ‘Icon’ albums, and even more so, of the later Tribulation albums. A sound originating in the 80’s from for instance Sisters of Mercy but in a far more metallized context, but at the core a more flowing, adventurous, and cleaner component. In the music of Sulphur Aeon this is often contrasted by intensely raging drums and the backdrop of the heavy distorted guitars. As such, the band creates an alienating atmosphere, fitting with wanderings in an unearthly landscape such as is depicted on the cover of ‘Seven Crowns and Seven Seals’.
The instrumental breakdown of Sulphur Aeon is one of intense drum patterns, one that ranges from utterly pummeling to more midtempo beats and continuously shifts as the songs progress. These are probably the heaviest component of the music, although one part of the guitars still consist of the rather crushing distorted chords. The other half of the guitars are cleaner, often more strumming and melodic and are juxtaposed to the wall that the rhythm section and, for lack of a better description, heavy guitar parts form. While there is a natural flow contained within the tracks sometimes transitions are somewhat abrupt, but it feels the band has made steps in integrating the two different worlds. Much like the duality of the guitars, the vocals also consist of two separate approaches: on one hand we have the typical low growls and on the other clean spoken passages and singing. These are admittedly a little bit hit and miss: in ‘The Yearning Abyss Devours Us’ the dual layers are a bit off but in ‘Arcane Cambrian Sorcery’ or the title track they come across much better, as if they are reciting an incantation to summon Cthulhu itself. This ritualistic atmosphere is something that comes across more often, and more than ever before, the band has created a soundtrack to summoning an ancient one.
Coming from the first two Sulphur Aeon albums, their latest creation is quite a distance removed. While it offers some familiarity, the much more adventurous and progressive musicianship and variation in the vocals is something that needs getting used to, and this certainly isn’t an album that instantly clicks. If you are going to go into a pact with Cthulhu you will need the longest breath, and it’s exactly that what it requires to fully absorb ‘Seven Crowns and Seven Seals’. Its secrets will only unfold if you are willing to return to this alien world time and again, but the daring listener will certainly find themselves enthralled by the meandering melodies and intricacies contained within.