Macabre Omen – Gods of War – At War (2015)

macabre-omen_-_gods-of-war-at-war

During black metal’s most creatively fertile period in the early 1990s, a handful of Greek musicians forged an alternative musical path noticeably different from that of their Nordic peers. Their efforts would subsequently crystallize into the Hellenic black metal sound or style.

The original founding bands Rotting Christ, Varathron and Necromantia laid down the template for a distinct and comprehensive mode of expression, instantly recognizable through its techniques and production values. Similar to the attempts of early continental black metal groups like Samael, Master’s Hammer, Root and Mortuary Drape the Greek bands stayed half-rooted in heavy- and speed- metal while surging towards the compositional, technical and conceptual horizons forged by 1980s proto-underground death/black metal.

Not surprisingly, many native and non-Greek bands have sought to recreate the Hellenic sound throughout the years. Buth whether it concerns faithful carbon-copying of surface traits or the assimilation of particular idiosyncrasies as exotic flavoring, it has proven difficult to match the quality of the classic recordings. Even the originators themselves soon failed to uphold the compositional standards of their early works although still working with a similar set of techniques and aesthetics. This is not an unusual phenomenon. Just think of the “Sunlight-syndrome” of Swedish death metal where the outward signs of excellence lives on long after the initial burst of creativity has been extinguished — like a silent witness to the achievements of a once great but now degenerate civilization.

Twenty years after the last Greek black metal releases of note, Macabre Omen embarks on a perilous quest to restore the glory of Hellenic metal with their second album Gods of War – At War (2015). While coming off as an amalgamation of Rotting Christ, Bathory (circa Hammerheart / Twilight of the Gods) and Manowar, the band infuse their songs with enough personality and direction to avoid accusations of pastiche or potpourri. And thankfully, unlike previous tributaries of Greek black metal Macabre Omen are tasteful enough to abstain from copying the original bands wholesale, instead choosing to adapt the older styles to their own songwriting and artistic vision. The typical Greek-style “warm”-sound, staccato/palm-muted riffing and lead-guitar harmonies are present, but are applied wisely and not as an excuse for idea drought.

Although common extreme metal characteristics abound, Gods of War – At War is at heart oriented toward heavy metal music with a strong emotive character. However, Macabre Omen avoids much of the blockheadedness of said genre by crafting their songs in a fluent and dynamic manner similar to Rotting Christ’s Thy Mighty Contract. Long melodies gradually unfold — passing through series of transformations, related melodies and re-evaluations through counter-thematic juxtapositions bound together by brief bridge-sections, etc. — before exploding full regalia in liaison with a triumphant chorus of Viking-era Bathory/Manowar proportions, bringing resolution before lapsing into the next cycle of musical events.

The melodic framework which constitutes the skeleton of these battle hymns is set into motion by  competent and varied percussion. The drumming suffers somewhat from a tendency towards 1980s heavy metal flamboyance but never strays too far to disconnect from the rest of the music. Strings and skins integrate well, providing a favorable environment for the conjuration of mental images. For example, one can’t help but associate the Bathory-inspired “rowing” rhythm with the sound of triremes traversing the Mediterranean.

Gods of War – At War contains the proper ingredients for an engaging sonic journey. However, there are issues which hinders this album from reaching its full potential, cutting it short from being a truly immersive experience. One of the main feats of the album is that most of the songs have a sense of direction: they go somewhere. The downside is that most of the time they go to the same somewhere, namely the triumphant sections as described above. This does not annoy much on an occasional listen, but the predictability will wear the listener out through repeated listening.

Furthermore, Macabre Omen frequently goes overboard in their employment of introductions, contrasting middle-sections and layers of additional instrumentation, effects and chanted vocals to add extra “epic-ness” and variation to the ground-material. What worked for a delicate and imaginative composer like Quorthon at his prime unfortunately translates into top-heavy music on Gods of War – At War, which occasionally forces the band into writing more predictable and simple songs. Consequently, the tracks on the album with less extraneous elements are consistently more effective and powerful, while the more over-indulgent songs come across as swamped and prone to banal rock-cheesiness.

Regardless of its deficiencies, there is an admirable boldness to Gods of War – At War. Its forcefulness and direction conveys a desire to expand upon a style that appeared to be hopelessly set in stone. While only partly succeeding at their endeavor, Macabre Omen instills expectations for the future. This album is superior to many of the so-called “lost gems” of 1990s Hellenic black metal and rises above the majority of contemporary metal releases as well.

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38 thoughts on “Macabre Omen – Gods of War – At War (2015)”

  1. This sounds like it could be some good, glorious, heavy metal.
    I’ll give it a listen.

  2. harsh critiquer of vest patcheses says:

    I prefer this to the billionth Norway clone or war metal bullshit, not bad at all. The “special effects” with the choir chants seem unnecessary but it doesn’t undermine the sound songwriting and solid performance.

  3. Inspectral Gadgets says:

    Hi Johan (or anybody knowledgable),
    Could you please elaborate for my edification on:
    “a distinct and comprehensive mode of expression, instantly recognizable through its techniques and production values.”
    i.e. what are said techniques?

    This relates to the ‘technical […] horizons forged by 1980s proto-underground death/black metal’ you later mention.

    Thanks.
    technical and conceptual horizons forged by 1980s proto-underground death/black metal.

    1. Johan P says:

      Mr Gadget,

      There’s plenty to say on this subject. As far as technique goes, the Greeks developed their own way of playing – blending older metal with what was (relatively) new at that point. The prime example would be their riffing-style, with a lot of palm-muting like speed metal but used to give it a staccato-effect of sorts when sped up to tremolo-velocity. If my explanation sucks, just listen to the first track off Rotting Christ’s Thy Mighty Contract (that would be ‘The Sign of Evil Existence’ and hopefully that will help!

  4. Matt Risnes says:

    Listening to it on spotify. It is quite excellent. Thanks for the heads up and the compelling review.

  5. Vatha says:

    Macabre Omen’s 2005 full length The Ancient Returns is one of the better Greek BM releases in recent times. I was very pleased to find that their followup, though 10 years in the making, is a worthy successor.

  6. Marc Defranco says:

    Love this album been going back to it since its release

  7. Rainer Weikusat says:

    Could someone explain why this is »black metal«? Judging from the song titles, it’s thematically mostly sentimental (people who like this called it epic) glorification of ancient Greek (war) history. Musically (I listened to some of two tracks), it’s heavy metal riffs plus loads of ‘gloriously sounding’ effects and non-heavy metal parts, eg, mystically reverb-drenched male choir singing (a real choir) or extended, undistorted electric guitar beautifulling. For good measure, some very predictable blast-beat passages have been thrown in. These sometimes accompany chord progressions which don’t ‘heavy metal’. The vocals are unclean and could be described as passionlessly black-metal styled, almost textbook example like: Look, son, that’s how madness and desparation would sound were I mad or despaired.

    Dollars to dotcoms, this is – similar to so-called ‘melodic death metal’ – heavy metal conservatively modernized for the 1990s.

    1. Rainer Weikusat says:

      Additional illustration:

      This is something which calls itself a Greek black metal band (I’m still hoping I’ll eventually get on CD as that’s the first example of this highly melodic stuff I actually like):

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ius33qi9g4I

      What’s that then? A Norway Clone? Vapid War Music again?

      1. I don’t understand how Rotting Christ – Thy Mighty Contract is black metal, either, apart from a few parts here and there.
        But I don’t care. When it’s good, it’s good. I like heavy metal anyway.

        1. 8==D says:

          Anyone who doesn’t like heavy metal doesn’t like Manowar, and anyone who doesn’t like Manowar is a poser faggot who is afraid of themselves

          1. LostInTheANUS says:

            Agreed, those motherfuckers are just afraid of themselves of ManOwaR

          2. Rainer Weikusat says:

            Not-NWOBHM-guy answer: Anybody who likes Manowar is posing so hard because he’s afraid someone might notice he’s really a faggot.

            But that’s too simple for the real world: I’ve listened to Manowar once in my life when I was 17. Evertybody I was hanging out with at that time thought they were laughably overdoing it. I did like that because I was very much into heroic fantasy at that time (specifically, Kane) and because of the melodies they were employing.

            But I’m not optimistically 17 anymore and learnt a few things in the meantime. Nowadays, Kings of Metal (I’m not going to check out another) sounds like Bon Scott era ACDC infused with NWOBHM elements to me (up to the guy playing an Angus Young styled solo for most parts).

            1. MF says:

              Don’t base your opinion of Manowar on Kings of Metal, they were pretty much a caricature of themselves by that point. First four albums, especially the first two, are the best.

              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9XqoQCsjfg

            2. C.M. says:

              Hail To England is fucking great though man… and I still like Kingdom Come, it’s great no matter how you slice it.

              1. Johan P says:

                Nice to see Manowar getting some love around here. I wonder when the social justice mob is going to shut down one of their shows for playing ‘Pleasure Slave’?

              2. Rainer Weikusat says:


                I am a mortal, but am I human?
                How beautiful life is now when my time has come
                A human destiny, but nothing human inside
                What will be left of me when I’m dead?
                There was nothing when I lived

                [The Life Eternal]

                That’s not compatible with “with the bare-breasted maiden behind me, I raise my glorious steel to the sun” (or with “Hellenes don’t fight like heroes, heroes fight like Hellenes”, for that matter). Life is an ever-repeating misery until it ends. Every evening, it ends a little bit, for a while, but it always comes back as the sun rises for yet another day.

                “Hahaha you faggot, that don’t trouble me!” is not a sign of courage but of blissful ignorance.

                1. Rainer Weikusat says:

                  NB: This is not a statement about Manowar as music. Just about is less-than-universal applicability.

        2. Hail Pain says:

          I feel the same way about that album, and this Macabre Omen one after giving it a listen on Google Music earlier (minus the 3rd and 6th tracks, which aren’t available for streaming for some reason). Enjoyable for the most part but there were some pointless dissonant sections that I could have done without (4:30 onwards in the title track sounded like something off a Blut Aus Nord record).

          As far as Rotting Christ goes, perhaps the long-form riffing style along with their very particular way of “concluding” (for lack of a better term) riffs owes something to the black metal classification. As an example, this track: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjJbxb4PEa8 (not Rotting Christ themselves, but you get the idea right away). Of course when you consider something like the first Septic Flesh album, that opens up a new set of questions. Despite being more clearly “death metal” it’s certainly closer to Rotting Christ and the like than most other death (or black) metal bands.

          1. trystero says:

            What you call “long form riffing” is the characteristic black metal feature. Good comment.

          2. Rainer Weikusat says:

            Thanks for the explanation and example. I’ve now at least managed to understand what this is supposed to be.

      2. trystero says:

        Human Serpent seems to be black metal of the Norsecore variety with Swedish elements. Horrible stuff. My man, have you even heard the DLA bands? The great metal music? Listen to Sacramentum (Far Away From The Sun) ten times rather than wasting energy on this trash.

        1. Rainer Weikusat says:

          There seem to be two common (sort-of) definitions of norsecore

          1. Derogatory term used by people who like traditional black heavy metal to refer to anything recorded somewhere in Scandinavia in the early 1990s that isn’t.

          2. Derogatory term used by people who like some Norwegian black metal for anything from the region they don’t like. Typical traits are supposed to be continuous use of the same kind of blast beats and comic-style ‘trivial’ lyrics about Satanism or war. Almost every list of examples mentions Marduk (Panzerdivision Marduk) and Dark Funeral. Other names people liked to drop in this context where (in no particular order) Darkthrone, Immortal, Gorgoroth and Mayhem.
          That’s such wildly differing music that the term seems pretty useless to me.

          Darkthrone and Immortal don’t belong into this list at all. Neither does the Mayhem I know (pre-‘Attila the Hungarian’, pretty close to Under A Funeral Moon Darkthrone BTW).

          Dark Funeral is comic-styled blackened heavy metal (with Norwegian black metal influences).

          I didn’t look at the lyrics but the abstract description is a good fit for Panzerdivision Marduk: »Featureless« or »soulless&laquo would come to mind as description for that. Vocals a montonously croaking, the drummer is blasting away for the sake of doing so and the guitar seems to have been written around that: The chord progressions betray a Norwegian heritage but they seem simplified with the intent to reduce melodicalness in favour of noisyness (in the sense of ‘white noise’). There’s no discernible (to me) melodic evolution over the course of a track but no discernible rhythmic/ harmonic patterns (which evolve) either. Minus the drum sound which is too clicky in both cases, that’s a completely bizarre comparison.

          Gorgoroth is the most similar. But after a fairly short while, Gorgoroth always ends up playing a/ some heavy metal riffs. The ‘melodic’ guitar parts are decidedly less bad than Marduk but similarly featureless. One could describe this as ‘Gorgoroth understands what they’re trying to do but they can’t do it. Marduk also can’t do it but they never noticed that’. Also an odd comparison. I’d never listen to Gorgoroth.

          The Swedish band (Sacramentum) is musically obviously a different class. People who think they like God Mabcabre should have a look at that: It’s as centered about beauty but without all the kitsch parts. Not for me but that’s purely a matter of taste here.

          1. Rainer Weikusat says:

            s/God Macabre/Macabre Omen/

            I should have checked this …

  8. Bruce Dick In Son says:

    Wow, this is really good, like a mix between Rotting Christ and Obsequiae.

  9. trystero says:

    It sounds nice enough (inoffensive), but if the linked track is any indication of quality it isn’t any good. There are some emotive flourishes, but it doesn’t actually cross over into genuine musical expression. Rather those flourishes are more like setpieces, or items of fashion. The linked track isn’t even as good as bad Rotting Christ, which still has powerful and memorable melodies. Could anyone recommend a particularly standout track?

  10. trystero says:

    Metal (and by extension extreme metal) does not simply refer to a set of techniques and method of expression, but also a certain worldview that is expressed. There is considerable overlap between these two. A certain vision may require particular techniques to be positively expressed. Alternatively however, one vision may be approached via varying techniques and sounds that don’t seem to have any connection unless we consider the abstract vision. This is not difficult, such connections are intuitively available in a common sense fashion. For example, one can say a certain non-musical situation is “metal” or not.

    Greek black metal refers to a movement of bands in an interrelated scene in Greece that were inspired by the dark visions of extreme/black metal and expressed this via techniques that are for the most part NWOBHM derived. From a purely structural point of view, black metal tends towards longer melodies that are freed from an underlying beat and induce change and motion via relatively abstract transposition or conflict of melody whereas death metal tends towards shorter, architectural melodic phrase that induces change via this architecture. This is simply for explanation, in practice both genres contain both elements. Greek black metal is much closer to the former than the latter. It certainly is black metal, but it is not a direct derivation of what the Norwegians were doing. No one is very confused about how Obituary and Eucharist can both be death metal, but I often see a confusion about Greek black metal for some reason.

    Extreme metal in its heyday was never ossified. Inspiration was the rule and paradigms were frequently shattered (more “extreme”). There would have been, and still is, room for many death metals, black metals and completely new expressions. Anything would pass muster, as long as it is genuinely heavy in the true meaning of the term.

    1. Johan P says:

      Well said, trystero.

      I can’t point to any specific M.O. track as a standout and neither would I recommend them to a seasoned metalhead. But I do think this band shows promise if they could cut down on the cheese and turn the “flourishes” into something more articulate and… well… expressive.

    2. Johan P says:

      Also, your comments opens up for a discussion regarding the factors leading to the developments of new techniques, etc. and why the early bands/releases are so strong.

      1. C.M. says:

        Careful, trystero is allergic to discussion about technique!

        :P

        1. Johan P says:

          Hmm, I see. It’s all connected though – the expression of a world view all the way “down” to choice or development of techniques et cetera – so why not consider all aspects.

          1. C.M. says:

            I’m of the same mind. That some particular or another technique or tone was chosen over others as a means to express whatever the artist intended is certainly worth consideration.

            Trystero, however, has rightly pointed out to me that this examination could lead one to mistakenly conclude that the techniques themselves had some sort of magic in their selection and arrangement, when in fact the magic comes from the mind of the creator and all else is secondary or less in its influence on the end result (the music itself).

      2. Metal was a new kind of music using old instruments. Therefore, new techniques were likely to emerge, since the old instruments had to be used in new ways to express different things.

        Metal has the same instruments as 1950’s pop and rock & roll. Consider that.

        1. Rainer Weikusat says:

          The first person to use power chords (extensively) was Link Wray. In the 1950s, this sounded like

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ucTg6rZJCu4
          [song banned from airplay on the grounds of inciting gang violence]

          Not quite the same.

          1. That’s interesting history. Thanks.
            Both the extensive use of power chords on amplified guitar, and that it was banned, despite not having any lyrics.

  11. Altarboys of Madness says:

    Tangentially: moving forward, we should end our posts by listing the song we’re listening to whilst writing it. Case in point:

    Celtic Frost “Dong of Megiddo” 2 Mega Therion

    1. Altarboys of Madness says:

      Other niggas might write:

      DeathSpell Omega “Paraclitorus” S/T
      Abigor “____” Leveyen Satanyzm
      Wolves ‘n the Throne Room “Crystal Balls” Black Cascades
      Proclamation “Chaos 2 the Kingdom of Doom”

      Only participate if you’re listening to a metal song. Otherwise kill yaself.

      1. El says:

        I would listen to an album called “paraclitorus”

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