Via GrizzlyButts : "Drowning deep in the ink of the Mavronéri — An eternity without death and well beyond human existence curses him. The ear longs for anything but the wind’s painful frozen voice and the unhealing scar it leaves upon the mind, he can only wander about the ruins in the dark with no sun to warm or light this nothingness. All is frozen and miles deep yet the warrior mind and empathetic heart can neither numb to the torture of physical pain nor mental duress via memories of the long buried past; Solitude cuts deepest without rest from their haunting.


Bleakest winter stillness and the slowest setting of the sun served as prime inspiration nearly a full decade ago as (now) quite well-revered musician Phil Tougas (Chthe’ilist, Cosmic Atrophy, ex-Zealotry) would take a stab at funeral doom metal circa 2012, writing an album as inspiration struck him and then shelving it until it made sense for the Québec-based muso to realize it. In terms of rendering the finest possible outcome that matched his greater vision, it’d been worth the wait. And this hiatus makes quite a bit of sense, that year funeral doom metal had reached a new peak in terms of popularity and artistry, a breaking point for some artists and a new dawn for ambitious folks twisting auld forms into new atmospheric extremity. This debut, ‘Stygian‘, is a testament to funeral doom metal’s currency as extreme underground music no matter what year, or how ambitious it may be — There is a timeless shuddering of the senses incurred upon the full listen that will undoubtedly translate to anyone who’d first experienced this unrepentant form of extreme doom metal circa the early 90’s in it’s infancy or for the first time recently. With some patience Atramentus‘ character will catch you off guard, grip with unyielding strength and drown away the aspirations of the ‘soul’. Hurry then, and savor your last breath.


Considering Tougas has made his mark with almost exclusively technical death metal applications, be they ‘old school’ or modern, it does feel like a record like this either would’ve been shelved for not meeting personal goals at the time or for the sake of it not being ready to matter in the right hands. Thanks to publications like Decibel and Revolver funeral doom metal would find its largest voice in 2012 due to the emergent high-visibility of Evoken, Ahab, Aldebaran and a very fresh-faced Bell Witch gelling quite well with the popular post-metal sensibilities of the time while more projects began reaching a fever pitch in terms of artistic focus and new mutant forms (see: Lycus). This spike in popularity may have nothing to do with Tougas‘ inspiration, though, as his songwriting on ‘Stygian’ is much more in line with the Finnish spectrum of funeral doom via Skepticism, (early) Tyranny, and Profetus with a focus on dark ambiance I would vaguely liken to Ysigim or ‘Odes’ & ‘Csjethe’-era Mordor; Something a bit more cavernous and cathedralesque than the current norm but not compressed as an auld classic in the sub-genre might’ve been (see: Thergothon, early Esoteric). There is no death metal here, no gigantic riffs or barreling-forth momentum express and this should reveal itself in the eldest tradition of the funeral doom genre, inaccessible unless you’ve been long-seated within the devastation it conveys — Just as electrolytes mean nothing to a well-hydrated body, funeral doom means nothing to a well-tended mind and there will be no healing light at the end of whatever tunnel you’ve shambled into.


What do you get from listening to funeral doom? Seasoned folks tend to vouch for the extremity of the experience, emotional strain, poetic depth, grittiness, lo-fi candor, and steadfast scene-appropriate sound design… Most of which modern funeral doom variants avoid for the sake of focusing on pacing, maximalism, and inferred melodic progression. Atramentus sits somewhere in the middle of these worlds as the render of this album is generally without quirk for most of the experience, leaving the sonic depth of the full listen to speak loudest and letting the idiosyncratic nature of these compositions shine darkest on the final piece “Stygian III – Perennial Voyage (Across The Perpetual Planes of Crying Frost & Steel-Eroding Blizzards)” where the suggested tie-in with Chthe’ilist‘s previous EP ‘Passage into the Xexanotth’ (in terms of lore, narrative) is at least hinted via even more boldly expressed (assumedly) pitch-shifted vocals. This ~23 minute piece is where some true interest and experience with classic funeral doom shows most readily in the artist’s hands, knowing that the album needs a signature texture and then expanding upon it with monastic chorales for the grand midst of the piece. It is a genius moment that lasts for half of the duration of the album yet generally speaking, it is the only piece that stands out like a grand monolith of devastation amongst the currently quite high standards of funeral doom metal artistry.


“Stygian I – From Tumultuous Heavens… (Descended Forth The Ceaseless Darkness)” isn’t a dud, though, and I don’t want to suggest it is a banal piece in any sense yet it doesn’t reach for any movements that aren’t better served via the masters in (2000’s) Tyranny or elsewhere in the past. Yes, it is quite well performed between members of Chthe’ilist, Sutrah, and Gevurah but also quite the typical song if you tend towards a certain circle of artists within funeral doom’s not-yet fully expansive membership. It is a reductive observation on my part, sure, but for the sake of knowing the project is absolutely capable of their own signature in moving away from the comfort of quite typical church organ-grinding funeral doom metal. Very impressive sound design helps to put a best foot forward ah via self-recording techniques from drummer Xavier Berthiaume and a final render via Greg Chandler who’d given a similar expanse to Convocation‘s most recent record as well. Does the professional capture, lofty conceptual narrative, gorgeous art direction (cover via Mariusz Lewandowski) translate to a valuable and full listening experience?


Yes, without hesitation this is a very fine funeral doom metal album that does not intend to shatter the increasingly listenable norms that define the sub-genre today. It is emotionally damning, thrillingly designed, and completely immersive as this sort of record can be without straying from classic forms too radically. That said, I do not know if it’d be fair to consider it a plain ‘genre entry’ release in the slightest as the modern aspects of Tougas‘ composition and performance are well-above average standards. ‘Stygian’ certainly doesn’t feel like a bedroom project or even a side-project for that matter and if it must be approached as a ‘debut showing promise’ the listening experience unveils as if it were sourced from the engine of a well-seasoned project. Is it the go-to funeral doom metal release for 2020? We’ll see at this point, at the very least it is one of the easiest to recommend to folks who’re looking for the classic style of funeral doom metal enhanced with a modern cleanliness while still retaining bit of it’s own brazen point of view. The only pre-qualifier I’d lob at folks approaching ‘Stygian’ blind is to not expect atmospheric death metal or a funeral death/doom hybrid. A high recommendation." 8/10 Originally written by terraasymmetry for https://grizzlybutts.com/


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Via everythingisnoise.net : "Nowadays, debut records are dropping left and right from artists who came out of nowhere. Given the huge advancement in recording technology, it makes it that much easier for up and coming artists to deliver high quality debuts; cue Atramentus. Although Atramentus is a side-project of sorts from several esteemed musicians in the world of extreme metal, Stygian is a true work of art that will leave you completely awestruck. You would think that this band has been around the block several times given the quality of the music, but no, they just got here.

First, lets address the elephant in the room; the album artwork. From the moment I laid eyes on it, I knew it was the work of Mariusz Lewandowski. Recognizing his work and its connection to this record was all I needed to get me to listen to Stygian. Lewandowski always delivers the best pieces for the best records, as every record that features his art is bound to be stellar (i.e records by Psycroptic, Mizmor, Fuming Mouth, Abigail Williams, Bell Witch). Without fault, his artwork perfectly encapsulates the incredibly bleak and hopeless atmosphere that is portrayed in the music. It reminds me somewhat of H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmic horror. Similar to Lovecraft’s work, Lewandowski’s pieces remind me that we are all insignificant, that nothing in our lives truly matter in the grand scheme of things. Just that realization alone is incredibly horrifying and equally breathtaking because it is true in some respect.


Despite Stygian being the debut record for Atramentus, this group is a side project of Phil Tougas, who is the guitarist for First Fragment. It is interesting comparing Atramentus and First Fragment as they are on polarizing ends of the extreme metal spectrum. Given how fundamentally different these two groups are from one another, it is incredibly refreshing to see artists dabble in something entirely different than what they’re known for. In this case, it is for the best, especially while we wait for new First Fragment. Needless to say, both groups are at the top of their respective genres as Stygian just shot Atramentus to the top of the funeral doom food chain alongside Bell Witch.

The weird thing about this record is that I have been constantly drawn to listen to it several times per day, which is never the case with funeral doom records. One playthrough of this type of record is enough for a few months, but Stygian just has something about it that keeps me coming back for more. As the inspiration for the closing track on Stygian being Tougas’ three-hour trek through a snowstorm at -20°C, this record truly does capture the essence of being lost in a frozen wasteland. The haunting and utterly gloomy soundscapes found throughout Stygian allow me to freeze to death in these tundra hellscapes vicariously. Although a funeral doom record as a whole, Stygian is very well balanced between the dark ambient soundscapes and the blistering riffs and blood-curdling screams. When the music isn’t spacing out with the reverberating, droning bass, the icy black metal riffs and the melancholic, thunderous piano on top of the tumultuous vocals make for a breathtaking amalgam that is well paced throughout its entirety. The whole record slowly builds to the massive climax that is the final moment in the closing track. Once the closing track, “Stygian III”, reaches its powerfully majestic end, I am left completely bewildered each time I listen through. This sole payoff moment makes the extra effort and patience put into listening to this brilliant record beyond worth it.

Funeral doom is without a doubt a hit-or-miss genre in which you get out what you put in, so patience is key. Many dense records already take additional effort to listen through all the way and enjoy, but this specific subgenre requires even more effort. Stygian is one special record with such an enthralling allure that kept me glued to it until its end. That is very rare for a record in the world of funeral doom, especially considering that it is a debut. One could say that this record is very accessible into the genre, yet still very dense. Atramentus‘ debut was much easier to enjoy as a whole compared to its counterparts, and I will keep coming back to this particular record because it is that remarkable." Originally written by JP Pallais for https://everythingisnoise.net/


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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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