Vertebra Atlantis - A Dialogue With The Eeriest Sublime (I, Voidhanger)

Symphonic metal is often maligned as the domain of cheese, a creatively desolate environment wracked with ear-piercing MIDI instruments whose timbral varieties conceal an utter lack of songcraft. Thankfully, some key exceptions like Obtained Enslavement have modelled how to use these elements for more creative ends, in their case taking the Baroque angle and running with it to contrapuntal glory. These more articulate manifestations have paved the way for Vertebra Atlantis to retrofit their emotive and thunderous dissodeath with an intelligent and discerning array of symphonic accoutrements, building on elements that were only present as understated flavours on their debut.

Lustral Purge in Cerulean Bliss was always going to be an incredibly difficult release to follow, and its commitment to atmospherically enhanced weight, which drew as much from the magnificent sentimentality of Abyssal as it did the frenetic morbidity of Our Place of Worship is Silence, is more or less preserved on the sophomore effort. A Dialogue With the Eeriest Sublime does make some tweaks, however – the less chunky, more dynamic sound has the band leaping and soaring where once they lumbered and crushed (compare the riffs in “Carnal Denouement” with their similarly wonky descendents “In Starlike Ancient Eyes” to see how the their delivery has shifted in stance). Furthermore, the influence of Emperor can be felt in the band’s riffs just as in their newfound philharmonic additions. Much like Lamp of Murmuur’s latest record, the splicing of the modern, angular, and dissonant hooks with the triumphant energies of Norway’s most mystical sons is executed in a satisfyingly grandiose but appropriately vicious manner. Even before taking into account the new instrumentation, the band possess a vital energy where once there was benthic oppression.

Of course, the lush symphonics of A Dialogue With the Eeriest Sublime absolutely enhance this mood. Vertebra Atlantis do more than barrage listeners with melodious faff, even as their chamber interventions take up more space than lesser projects’ lazy interludes. Instead, they innovate by sprinkling in these sonic augmentations with crafty paucity, each used with canny flourish. The moody opening section offers something like an overture, enhancing dramatic expectations while at the same time integrating itself fully into the oncoming storm. Breathtaking contrast is the most common result of these embellishments; “Frostpalace Gloaming Respite” plays host to brief chorals that soar alongside knotty riffs, while “Desperately Ablaze, From the Lowest Lair” prefaces a stomping lurch with orchestral splendour that could have been penned by John Williams. “Drown in Aether, Sovereign of Withered Ardor” displays all of this Lombardian unit’s talent in a one-two punch that peaks with a truly gorgeous string section before plunging back into intricately malignant dissonance. And most surprisingly of all, the title track’s clean vocals and orchestral body evoke a blackened crossbreed of Days of Future Passed and Chelsea Wolfe. There, and throughout Dialogue, the talents of Gabriele Gramaglia (Cosmic Putrefaction, Turris Eburnea, and soon, Hadit) as producer and composer are on full display – all the various textures are integrated perfectly, never overbearing nor jarring in their application. Like Dream Unending’s latest LP, it is a very smooth album, not in an inoffensive or tedious way (as the 20 Buck Spin prodigy's new age meanderings may well be accused of), but in its flow between disparate musical ideas. All told, Vertebra Atlantis’ nuanced approach to an often maligned style has shown that re-inventing an idea from its most basic roots can bring a band to glory, and a tear to the eye.