Updated: Oct 29, 2020

Via Echoesandust.com : "Funeral doom is an odd genre. Despite being, in many ways, one of the most extreme and challenging of metal’s subsidiaries, it has become – almost since inception – rather conservative. In other words, there’s seldom a band that comes along and challenges the form, and for whom people would later continue to acknowledge as still being rightly classed as funeral doom. As such, I have always found it a sub-genre that, due to those narrow boundaries drawn around it, produces three types of album: the utterly terrible and boring; the decent, but forgettable and destined never-to-be-replayed; or, the stand-out, excellent album that manages to nail the sound and takes its place alongside the jewels of the genre.


Atramentus hail from Canada. Born from mastermind Phil Tougas being caught in a blizzard in the winter of 2012 and, later on, suffering a difficult mental health period during the autumn of 2013, band members were added over the next few years, with a drummer being the final piece of the puzzle, as they did not want to press ahead with programmed drums. A five-piece who feature members who contribute to a vast host of (so far) much more active bands, the quintet has finally found themselves pulled back to the project – this monumental piece of work – and a concept that interlinks with one of Tougas and Claude Leduc’s other bands (namely Chthe’ilist). Stygian, marks their first ever recorded output as Atramentus, and the two larger tracks have been the principle music that has been sculpted during the past eight years.

Meticulous focus on the writing, production, mixing, mastering, conceptual and artistic approach has led them to their debut album finally seeing the light. Featuring members who are recognisable from their work in bands such as Gevurah, Sutrah and Funebrarum, to name just a few, Atramentus felt like ‘the real deal’ before a single note was heard, especially as their existence, to most, seemed like it was announced at the same time as the album was reported to be coming in 2020, and via the excellent 20 Buck Spin, no less. If you can’t tell by now, Stygian falls into the third type of funeral doom album – the one that stays with you and bears endless repeated listens – and in some of its’ final moments the record even manages to bring in some other elements that do challenge the mould.


Centring around the concept that a lone knight is granted immortality, that is bestowed upon him through the gift of the gods’ sword, only to see all that he ever knew and loved die as he witnesses the death of our Sun and the resulting pitch black Earth enveloped in crushing ice and an eternal blizzard, it’s certainly a fitting concept for an expansive, colossal funeral doom album. The album evokes the autumn of humanity and life of Gaia before being captured in a hopeless winter, stretching out into the embers of time, and with one uninterrupted, solipsistic view forever. Stygian is broken up into three tracks – the first at sixteen minutes and change, the second – acting as a bridge – coming in at just shy of five and the final track being the most gigantic, lumbering mammoth-like at a little over twenty-three minutes long. This leaves Stygian totalling at under forty-five, meaning despite the utterly epic nature of the two main pieces on offer, the album never feels like it runs to such an extreme length as to cause detriment to the listening experience.


Before I launch into a more detailed review of the music of Stygian, it would seem completely remiss to not pause to utter a ‘wow’ to the artwork. Unmistakably from the brush and canvas of Polish artist Mariusz Lewandowski, who’s dark, deeply evocative imagery has adorned recent albums by Bell Witch, False, Mizmor, Abigail Williams, Lares, Jupiterian and more, how absolutely perfect is this painting for the cover of such a style of music as Atramentus’? He’s also clearly got quite the taste in music, as not one of those aforementioned albums is anything short of brilliant. I’ve spotted a list of a handful of other records he’s allowed his work to be morphed into LP covers for in recent years, and I, for one, will be making sure to check out those ASAP, in the hopes that at least some more might be mined as sonic gold dust.


Atramentus’ debut opens with ‘Stygian I: From Tumultuous Heavens… (Descended Forth the Ceaseless Darkness)’ and the opening of our planet’s funeral dirge. Mournful chords reverberate around the desolate waste, crying out from a synth-laden, harpsichord effect. They almost sound like the hands of time ringing out from the heavens, declaring the end of all things. Humungous, smothering guttural growled vocals spill out over the dulcet sledgehammer guitars and bruising, smouldering drums. Almost immediately the greats of funeral doom are conjured, and with the harrowing bass and menacing synth playing, dark ambient acts immediately come to mind as well. From the first few minutes of this gargantuan tracks, acts such as Thergothon, Warning, Evoken and Mournful Congregation are ushered forth.


There is a depth to their creation that is truly awe-inspiring, and although very different, put me in mind of the context and complexity that came with Bell Witch’s Mirror Reaper. Atramentus, with their high-concept and penchant for bringing in some classic epic doom sounds, grandiose drumming and synths during the mid-point of the opening track, can also be deeply reminiscent of ‘classic’ bands such as Candlemass and, dare I say it, even Queensrÿche. Their sound is utterly, and completely all-encompassing, as only brilliant funeral doom should be, and ‘Stygian I’ certainly announces the band are a supreme force to be reckoned with. My only query would be whether the last minute or so of the track really adds much to the overall song, as the rest of the instrumentation falls away to leave the drums almost solo, slowly devolving and fading out. I think the fade out could have come quite a bit sooner, with this period being the only moment on the entire album that I felt didn’t feel deeply necessary and spellbindingly atmospheric.

‘Stygian II: In Ageless Slumber (As I Dream in the Doleful Embrace of The Howling Black Winds)’ is an ambient bridge between the two titanic tracks and is largely the brainchild of François Bilodeau, the man behind the synths. It is a neat piece that joins the album together conceptually, as our protagonist, having witnessed the end of everything, falls into a deep, but still restless, troubled sleep, hoping – one assumes – to sleep away eternity. But the black winds continue their endless fury [Atramentus being the deity of winds], with an energy slowly rising in the dark ambient soundscape created, before it whips up to begin verging on noise territory. Before it ever reaches bedlam, the voracity of this apocalyptic weather eventually wakes our doomed hero to winter; a winter like no other before and a winter without end.


Stygian closes with the simply mesmerising ‘Stygian III: Perennial Voyage (Across the Perpetual Plains of Crying Frost & Steel-Eroding Blizzards)’. Twenty-three minutes of riffs large enough to cause seismic movement on a global scale. Some of the best bands funeral doom and its associates have had to offer, such as Trouble, Esoteric, Fates Warning and Scald all occur as we traverse the bitter, frozen hulking pass of this track. Moving from gurgled, incredibly low vocals, to a more recognisable gruff and rough iteration, to epic, sumptuous choral work that recalls orthodox Christian singing, and – from a perspective of extreme metal – the incredible vocal work evident on Батюшка (Batushka’s) debut album Литоургия (Litourgiya).


Throughout its massive run-time ‘Stygian III’ never lets up or disappoints. It is epic in the very definition of the word. Despite the repetition and utterly bleak nature of the track, the album and of course funeral doom itself, the track – and indeed Stygian overall – has so much detail to offer to always remain interesting, nay deeply intriguing and bears revisits immediately. As a final salvo, Tougas and Leduc introduce a glacial, frozen cold black metal riff, where suddenly the huge mass that is Atramentus suddenly threatens to pick up pace, with the drums storming ahead out of the absolute zero ice, before as quickly as it comes, reminding us of the Atramentus-imbued black winds still blowing at horrific, numbing speeds, it fades into ambient reverie.


Xavier Berthiaume, their drummer and of Gevurah fame, is clearly a black metal specialist, and so his style – although having to fit into the funeral doom template – does have that vivid style reminiscent of the sunless north of America and black metal’s home in northern Europe. Berthiaume also mixed the record, and this approach does give the whole of Stygian a slightly different sound to many funeral doom records. There is a very subtle, blackened, or maybe it should be ‘frostbitten’ edge to it. Finally, the album was mastered by none other than Greg Chandler of Esoteric, rounding off the finishing touches to an, at times, unbelievably accomplished debut LP.


It should be noted that despite Atramentus currently enjoying being seen as a ‘new band’, they have been a project for eight years, with the majority of the two ‘main’ tracks on this album having been written for almost that length of time, meaning that this record in many ways is as old, if not older, than the material on the debut full-length of Chthe’ilist, for example. It seems that the band, like their protagonist, has all the time in the world, and have not rushed out this jewel (buried deep in the frozen ice).


Absolutely monumental, Stygian will be an album that stands the test of time and will surely elevate the band to a seat at the table of the often maligned, often misunderstood and wholly unappreciated sub-genre. Perhaps with their debut they can encourage more to delve into the bleak corridors of unknowing funeral doom inhabits. Either way, Stygian itself, is an essential listen this year." Originally written for https://www.echoesanddust.com/ by Chris Keith-Wright


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Via EsotericaCodex : "Freezing. Paralyzing. Desolate. Suffocating. Ancient. These words all perfectly describe and ultimately black-out the canvas of soot that Atramentus use to cover your rotting casket as their debut album “Stygian” blasts six feet above ground to the mourning in your loved one’s tears as they say their final goodbyes. Atramentus is not exactly a new comer to Metal. Formed in 2012 in Quebec, Canada, Philippe Tougas ( CHTHE’ILIST and FUNEBRARUM) wrote the band’s debut album “Stygian” and shelved it away for many years. Tougas did eventually assemble a full line-up but the album would not be recorded until December of 2018. The band self-recorded and self-produced their debut album and were eventually signed by 20 Buck Spin. That’s just the Cliff Notes version of the band’s wretched history. For a Funeral Doom band taking that long to release any sort of material, I would say that was the right amount of time to properly execute an album that at times is an even more extreme version of all Funeral Doom that has comes before them. Even Death Doom in certain moments. In the last handful of years both sub genres have seen amazing and soul-crushing releases by Evoken, Loss, Spectral Voice, Bell Witch, Lycus, etc. “Stygian” feels like the slowest and most overwhelmingly misery-induced coldness and dread of all of the bands and stretches those heart-tearing low chords and vocals that give Demilich a run for their money. Yet at the same time of course this band owns just as much as the pioneers of Funeral Doom such as Skepticism, and Therogothon.


Only 3 songs all clocking in at a total of forty four minutes and forty nine seconds yet “Stygian” at times is more than just another Funeral Doom to blast and annoy your friends, loved ones, family, neighbors just so you can clear the room out just so you can have a bit of social distancing. Ultimately yourself this is music you want to fucking torture yourself into listening and seeing if you can take the pressure of giving it the full album treatment. As absurd as that may sound, it’s actually hilarious in a grave-like humor sort of way, even if there is nothing funny about this album to begin with. The first song titled “Stygian I: From Tumultuous Heavens… (Descended Forth The Ceaseless Darkness)” starts out with the obvious slow piano keys that one would hear echoing through the corridors of eternal darkness. Then the low gutteral frog vokills come in and it’s an immediate drop into the frozen chasm that is the void that “Stygian” engulfs. Composition wise, it’s slow dying riff after crashing drums with some slow double kick mixed-in. But the ambient keys and overall atmosphere is where the strength lies in this band. Tune low all you want, but when it comes to Funeral Doom, you HAVE to create an atmosphere where the light of God himself is completely absent. Right around the 4:30 minute mark of the first track (as heard in the Youtube sample clip above) is where you get an actual clear picture of how completely fucking vacant that void Atramentus helps create is. The second track “Stygian II: In Ageless Slumber (As I Dream In The Doleful Embrace Of The Howling Black Winds)” is a pure instrumental track which is nothing but dark ambient music which sounds like the score to an 80’s horror movie where an ancient evil presence is draining the life force out of evil murderous humans in a ice-freezing cold citadel somewhere high in the mountains amidst during a snow storm and there is no way to escape it. At this point, I legit can see my breath in front of my face as I listen to the track while I am typing this. My blood has frozen solid and I am trapped in river of Cocytus chained to Him; the fallen one. The first to rebel. The final song on this agonizing motherfucker of an album is simply titled “Stygian III: Perennial Voyage (Across The Perpetual Planes Of Crying Frost & Steel-Eroding Blizzards)“. As if this goddamn album didn’t want to remind you that you are listening to it as a new release in the misery-inducing bullshit planet year of 2020, well it’s just going to swallow whatever hope you had for the next 30 years and shit all-over it. Forget it, there is no escape from the asphyxiating and stifling darkness. There is a small break from the ongoing lumbering funeral dirge requiem this song is and builds up to a wall of guitar solo which then evolves in a violent and destructive shattering barrage of black metal riffs. A storm of freezing tremolo that slowly fades away and all you hear are the winds and dark ambiance. Thus ending our journey into the heart of darkness.

Lyrically…this album reads like sort of ancient concept story of god-knows what. I’ll give you an excerpt of the lyrical “passages”:

Alone & isolated from the outside world, I slumber through the ages. No dread and sorrow nor pain to feel, but only the eternal utter blackness in the dreamless void. I feel at peace here, but at times when I think I am truly safe, a glimpse of a troubled memory resurfaces and dissipates as soon as it manifested itself. Long have I yearned to learn to ignore the echoes of the waking world for they are not for me to be concerned about anymore. I plunge deeper into the dreamless pits of nothingness, seeking my eternal refuge in the silent embrace of the void.

Past the musical composition, the lyrical themese, the artwork is absolutely gorgeous. A stunningly beautiful and depressing painting done by Polish artist Mariusz Lewandowski who (if you know your artwork history) has done commissioned album artwork for bands such as Bellwitch, Mizmor, and Abigail Williams. The image of an ancient warrior left in the aftermath of a barren, hopeless planet once called Earth is facing the fathomless and faceless ghosts of the past as he himself cannot die in a world where the sun has gone supernova has extinguished all of what once lived there. A desolate realm of where one has immortality gifted by the universal creator only to be suspended in perpetual freezing agony never able to be free of his constant pain. Forever suffering. “Stygian” may just as well be the ultimate expression of how the year of 2020 has been for everyone: long, agonizing, and a world without end. This album is catharsis. AtramentusStygian” is now available on 20 Buck Spin. Also if I were you, I would pick-up one of those sweet ass fucking longsleeve “Stygian” 4-sided print."

Originally written by Sean Wright for https://esotericacodex.wordpress.com/

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Updated: Oct 29, 2020

Via TheMetalOneAboveAll : "Over the course of the last 2 weeks, this is a record that has shot up in my attention. The vast majority of reviewers and metal channels I follow throughout Instagram and YouTube have done nothing but give the highest praises to this album, after listening to a small sample just last night I decided to give this record a spin. Formed back in 2012 out of Quebec, Canada Atramentus play Funeral Doom in the same vein as Bell Witch, Ahab etc however from what I’ve heard very recently this is an album where it was unsure whether it would ever see light owing to who is involved so the fact that we’ve got it is all the greater. It’s also worth noting that the lineup of Atramentus features the vast majority of Chthe’ilist as well so it’s a nice, unique perspective of what that band can also offer us in the context of a different subgenre. This is Atramentus’ first album and I’ve seen people hail it as a total gem, something that will stun people so I was extremely curious to see what was making this album such the hot topic to discuss and speak in hushed tones about. This is Stygian.


I like how this album opens itself up from the very beginning. There’s no gradual rise in guitar tone or a sweeping vocal assault, it’s this massive piano chord that repeats itself through and through but because of the sheer weight of the keys implemented it’s so enveloping that’s you can’t help but because quickly encapsulated by the immensity of its scale. Not to mention that this piano chord is soon followed by a great and heavy guitar tone before what I can only describe as the single heaviest vocal uttering I’ve ever heard follow suit (we’ll cross bridge eventually). Ultimately its an album opening done right where the band are instilling this immense weight to their songwriting before subjecting you to the full light of their track progression and that’s especially saying so, when you consider how 2 of the 3 tracks herein cross over 15 minutes in a nearly 45 minute record. It’s an introduction that very quickly pulls you into the mix of it all and then keeps you there, blanketed almost by the sheer wall of sound that is constantly surrounding you on all sides.


The vocals you get here are monstrous in the literal definition, they sound and feel like something deep within the earth, something that should never have been found, has found its way to the light. This is one of the few vocal performances I’ve ever heard that are on par with what we’ve received before now from Demilich and Chthe’ilist where the vocals aren’t simply diabolically heavy but also manage to latch on an additional, croaking effect that lends the vocals that extra, hyper abnormal factor to its presence. It wasn’t until after the album was finished that I realised it was actually Philippe Tougas behind the vocal helm, who also the frontman of Chthe’ilist so it’s no wonder the vocals sound similar to that band since it’s the same man. The vocals here simply do not sound human and that’s what really helps the band make their mark here as you know it’s a person behind the vocal helm, so it’s like you’re trying to convince yourself that this is a human performance. But I also like how the vocals aren’t utterly dominated by this one vocal style, you’ve got instances whereby the vocals can reach higher into the sky however it’s a harsher and more coarse form of vocal performance where you can feel the dregs of the throat cry out in utterance much in the same manner as you can feel the insides of the vocal cords as the croaking, ooze-drowned delivery is brought to the forefront. It’s also worth noting that you do get clean vocals here in the form of chanting, like something performed through a ritual or initiation rite; it conjures up strong imagery of the occult but namely the kind of imagery the artwork is giving us.


It’s a pretty brave move for a band even one that performs such intense Funeral Doom as Atramentus do so here, to include just three tracks throughout their full length album. Even then only two of them are proper songs so the album is basically just 2 full tracks with a 5 minute breather in the middle that bridges the gap between the two pieces, the beginning and the end. However it’s a brilliant piece of album structure, the band have effectively tapped into a three-act structure where the opening track introduces us to the atmosphere or soundscape, the second track is what takes us from the beginning to the climax but not before we get this final cacophony of sound and a relief of inhaled air uttered by an unnamed male until the final track brings us to the album’s outstanding crescendo. As much as the second track is this atmospheric and instrumental piece to carry us over through to the last section of the album, it also serves to get the audience ready for what is to come as the final track is a monolithic 23 minute piece. Stygian is an album with terrific courage especially as a debut effort as well as if they’ve seen Bell Witch and Ahab atop their mantles and said “We can top that”, I love that mentality. The idea that bands can continuously and potentially top one another leads to greater works of art being conjured.


To say that this album has a monstrous atmosphere and tone would be a dire understatement. The band fully immerse you within its gaping, gargantuan soundscape. No matter where you go throughout this album you are there amongst the incalculable depths of this record. This soundscape is completely inescapable, the only way you can get away is to turn the album off but due to the sheer scale at which this album is playing at you don’t want to turn away, you want to keep listening. You want to keep going further to see what lies beyond even when you know full well madness is the only reward; in this essence it’s Lovecraftian horror brought to sonic realisation, that idea that no matter what route you take and all the care you can allow yourself you will still fall victim to the album’s dominance over your senses. Whether it’s howling winds, swaying background vocals, piano keys, deep and bellowing guitar tone, gigantic drums that litter the atmosphere with sickening malevolence or the sheer act of the vocals that permeate the vast majority of this album with such a total and absolute tone, this is an album that immersed you fully within its atmosphere and just does not let go for any reason whatsoever. The atmosphere and tone is what makes this album so addictive since it’s so thick and realised, this is the case of a band that has really put in the effort to make sure you cannot go without the atmospheric element because Funeral Doom when fine right cannot be removed from the atmospherics, because when things go right the audience will think go the atmosphere first and then return to it.

The last track of the album is a journey unto itself let alone what it feels in the context of the album as an entirety. This is an excellently well paced and losing track especially when you consider how the band close out the album with a song that is more than half it’s entire runtime so they needed to provide something strong to finish things off and leave a memorable presence with their fans. I can say wholeheartedly that this is one of, if not THE, most powerful, singular songs I’ve heard all year round. The journey we’ve taken through the album mirrors the kind that the band insinuates the unnamed man has gone through, as signified by his gasp of air at the end of the second track. It’s worth noting that the album really details the kind of soundscape and experience you are venturing on, the first song is very subterranean as if you’ve been thrown away, banished, exiled etc and are trying to crawl your way back to the lands you’ve been sent from. The second track is where you start getting closer, you feel the hints of where you belong only for you to finally break through the depths and feel the air rushing back into you before the third and final song is where you return to the place you remember, it’s where you were before the record started and the way the guitar work becomes much clearer and unloads far more radiant and glistening kinds of guitar licks speaks volumes about how the band want you to feel. But it’s in the final 7/8 minutes where the band utterly triumph in their songwriting where the gradually building power through beautiful guitar work, rising drumming and vocals that soar into the sky. The level of power and cathartic might. Brand are able to achieve here is simply otherworldly, you can tell when the band are moving in for that final segment of their album because the tone becomes triumphant, it becomes glorious, it feels like you yourself have come through the obstacles and adversities of this record and now you reap the reward and can return, can ascend back to the mantle of godhood you originally held. But it’s a position you feel like you forgot you always had and so as the album closes out in a breathtaking climax it’s like you feel all the despairs, all the pains and struggles that you went through tinrexch this point all fade away as you bask in this one moment of everlasting power. This final phase of the album feels like salvation incarnate, a piece of songwriting that would not work without the album’s devastatingly crushing atmosphere and tone pervading most of its runtime. It’s an emotionally cathartic experience where you yourself will feel like you have saved yourself through your own efforts and determination not to give in, it’s something we can all relate to and by the album’s end I was in tears. The fact that the album managed to warrant a legitimate emotional response from myself is something else, that is not easy to accomplish. As album conclusions go, it’s flawless.


In conclusion, this is an album I had heard heaps of praise after praise attributed to. I decided to listen to this record after a final bout of curiosity and what sample I listened to amazed me. After experiencing this album in full and realising I could listen to this record all over again from start to finish even as I knew the final track was still ending, I realised just what a juggernaut of a record Atramentus have on their hands. In a single album the band have taken their place amongst the giants of Funeral Doom where Mirror Reaper and The Call Of The Wretched Sea can be matched, but those albums are over an hour to nearly 90 minutes long and Stygian isn’t even 45 minutes so this masterpiece of Funeral Doom is half as long as other well established monoliths of the subgenre. It renders Stygian therefore as even more accessible (which is strange to say for Funeral Doom) for new fans to become enamoured with especially when you consider how there are only 3 tracks to the full album but really it’s just the one song split up into three various phases that each add their own purposes and impacts to the conjoining songwriting and album experience. 20 Buck Spin have found themselves an honest to God masterpiece, one that I feel I could listen to every single day until they release something new and I still wouldn’t find myself dulled by it. Stygian is deserving of every praise and commendation it receives for it is as cathartic as it is soul crushing, as triumphant as it is nihilistic, as despairing as it is inviting salvation. An incredible experience that I won’t forget any time soon and a record I’ll be sure to play over and over again even if to just make that final track worth it. Stygian takes you under its wing and never lets go until it finally does, and you feel the freedom that was likely there all along but never realised you had. The new zenith of Funeral Doom." 10/10 Originally written for https://themetaloneaboveall.tumblr.com/




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