Welcome to The Lazarus Pit, a biweekly look at should-be classic metal records that don’t get nearly enough love, stuff that’s essential listening for students of extreme metal that you’ve probably never heard of. Stuff that we’re too lazy to track down the band members to do a Hall Of Fame for. This week, we check out some true innovators, the first black metal group (that I know of) to feature a female keyboardist: Aeternus’s …And so the Night Became (Hammerheart).
The brainchild of Ares, a journeyman guitarist who had previously contributed ice sculptures to Gorgoroth, Immortal, and about a thousand other corpse painted battalions, Aeternus formed in 1993 as a power trio intent on exploring the outermost reaches of blackness. Along with bassist/keyboardist Morrigan and Vrolok on drums, he knocked out an incredibly raw debut EP, Dark Sorcery, that definitely fit into the burgeoning Norwegian scene but also took note of what the Peaceville Three were doing over in jolly old England.
Then came Beyond the Wandering Moon in 1997. Now, a lot of people who are familiar with this particular outfit rep for that particular effort. And it is damn good, don’t get me wrong. Gorgeous arboreal melodies poke through the glacial onslaught, imbuing the songs with a majestic melancholy. But that one still feels a little too close to what Emperor and Satyricon were doing around the same time. No, my money’s on 1998’s …And so the Night Became as their shining moment, their surprisingly prescient take on the shape of black metal to come.
Not that it ignores black metal of the past. You listen to this, and there’s no doubt what it is and what the people who made it are wearing in the booklet. Still, just because it has some of the conventions of the genre doesn’t mean that it doesn’t ultimately transcend them. For one thing, the production on this sucker is crisp and clean. Nothing bleeds together, and while the guitars are still covered in dirt, it’s a pristine filth. You can even understand Ares’ vocals! On the first listen! It’s typical stuff about ice and fire and hammers of war, but it’s still nice to be able to comprehend it. These songs are long, too – eight tunes in 63 minutes – but they never really get old. It’s more the My Dying Bride school of composition than the post-millennial Iron Maiden style of songs that just keep Goddamn going.
But that still doesn’t quite touch on why Aeternus were special. Really, it’s that they weren’t afraid to try different stuff. The first track, “There’s No Wine like the Bloods Crimson” starts off with some deeply intoned narration and atmospheric keyboards before giving way to several minutes of deeply echoing tribal drums that presage Sanford Parker’s entire production career, then melding seamlessly into some Viking black metal. The final track, “Fyrandehimen,” (did I mention that these guys were Norwegian?) could be off a freaking Blackmore’s Night album, a trip to the Bergen Renaissance fair played with, according to the booklet, lute, vielle a’ roue, clarsach crewth, lyre, dronepipes, and piano. Everything in between is some combination of that, brutality and folky melodies melodies (a lot of them done with acoustic guitars) inextricably intertwined in extended dances of doom and depression.
Aeternus are still active, but they abandoned black metal for more traditional death metal material soon after this record. Still, where they left off, Agalloch picked up the ball and ran with it all the way to coveted Album of the Year status. Sure, there’s loads of stuff that sounds like this these days, but it was a much rarer proposition in 1998, and…And so the Night Became has aged surprisingly well, working nicely as a bridge between the second wave of Norwegian black metal and the more atmospheric strain that would take over in the next century.