If you’re like me, then your knee-jerk reaction to the term “symphonic black metal” is probably somewhere along the lines of “thanks, but I’d rather not.” After all, the likes of Cradle Of Filth and Dimmu Borgir both spent considerable parts of their careers stripping the style of much credibility in the eyes of many. It’s a pretty foolish position though, really. A few prominent bands lacking in kvlt is no reason to write off a whole genre. And Imperial Conquest’s album, Hammerûn:Monarch of Serpents, is one that proves that such musical prejudices can lead to you missing out on something that is very much worth your time.
More reminiscent of Emperor than COF and Dimmu, Hammerûn:Monarch of Serpents is a symphonic black metal album that doesn’t forget that the core sound of the genre is in the guitars, drums, bass and vocals, without the keyboards swamping things. Sure, they’re clear and prominent – as they should be in this style of metal – but it’s not at the expense of the guitars. For every moment of sweeping, epic keyboard majesty – and there are plenty – there is a head-banging riff or powerful lead to back it up, with the pounding drums and strong bass forming a solid foundation. On top of it all, the vocals are wonderfully cruel and vicious, ensuring that this album does not lack for a focal point or any weak links. “Flesh Carved Doctrines” is a perfect example of this, demonstrating all of Imperial Conquest’s strengths in just over five minutes, even including a superb solo towards the conclusion. Opener “Sulphurous Elementals” is another excellent track, making it clear early on what this album about: energy, aggression, and a sense of epic grandeur, whilst closer “Omnipotence” (re-recorded from their previous album) possesses an almost Dissection like feel at points,largely due to its superb introductory segment.
If there is a complaint to be made against the album, though, it is that it offers perhaps too much of a good thing. It is intense, with barely a moment to catch your breath, and it can take several listens to be able to process everything that is going on in these songs. They don’t stray too far from the symphonic black metal archetype, but there is so much going on in them that it can be dizzying, with some of the detail being lost amongst the whole. Still, this does also mean that there is plenty to keep the listener coming back for more, and it is obvious that a lot of thought, practice, and talent has gone in to the creation of Hammerûn:Monarch of Serpents. It may not single-handedly change my gut reaction to the thought of symphonic black metal, but it is further evidence that it is still a style which can produce albums that are more than worthwhile.
Hammerûn:Monarch of Serpents is available to stream and download through Bandcamp.