Strings of Ares - _Temple to Mars_
(Archaic North Entertainment , 2010)
by: Mark Dolson (9 out of 10)
Strings of Ares, hailing from Oshawa, Ontairo, Canada is a rather new band, emerging confidently from the ashes of the legendary but sadly defunct Blood of Christ. Taking their overall aesthetic and lyrical inspiration from ancient Greece and Rome (a marked shift compared to the more poetic and existential themes found on previous Blood of Christ albums), Strings of Ares have declared war on the existing genre of brutal, progressive death metal. And by war, I mean total war: these guys have completely leveled the battlefield in terms of originality, both thematically and musically. Plain and simple, _Temple to Mars_ is how modern progressive death metal should be played. This is tight, technical, and highly progressive (but not overly so, to the point of getting lost) metal with touches of atmosphere here and there.

Let's take a closer look at what can be found on _Temple to Mars_. First off, the musicianship is excellent. The rhythm guitars are tight, fast, and sharp, and buzz their way through riff after riff with the greatest of precision. The drumming is tight as well, with plenty of dynamism -- in terms of a barrage of kick drums, unpredictable fills, and measured blast-beasts -- to keep the listener interested and on track. Filling out the rhythm section, the bass playing is on point, too, with a production and mix generous enough to actually hear the instrument with its pulse-like twists and turns through the pills of riffs showcased on each of the seven tracks on the album. The guitar solos are atmospheric, intricate, and set a space-like mood, and thus add extra diversity to the lengthy tracks.

With respect to the vocal delivery on _Temple to Mars_, there's quite a bit of variation. We've got black metal rasps and snarls; croupous yells that sound not unlike good old Phil Anselmo; and then there's Strings of Ares' best kept secret: unique-sounding clean vocals. Though a little under-utilised (sadly), they sound similar in timbre to Jonas Renkse from Katatonia (particularly from the _Discouraged Ones_ era) -- which is a great contrast between the more aggressive deliveries across the album.

Perhaps what I find most unusual about _Temple to Mars_, though, are the infusions of black metal throughout the songs. This is something on its own: as stated at the start of this review, it's progressive death metal ("war metal"?) with hints of black metal interwoven into the brutal sonic tapestry Strings of Ares are so adept at creating. The last track, "Far From the Sun" (my personal favourite), is a case in point: it starts off with an amazingly fast black metal riff -- that sounds like something the mighty Istapp from Sweden would have written -- which then gives way effortlessly to some more heavy, progressive metal with fantastic clean vocal passages, and then returns to the same black metal riff the song started with. It's actually pretty refreshing to hear a pretty traditional black metal riff incorporated into heavier music like this.

If you're a fan of heavier, progressive death metal, but want something perhaps a little more sophisticated, original and atmospheric, you definitely need to give Strings of Ares a try. I have to say that I love the aesthetic based on ancient Greece and Rome (the samples used as intros to some songs which follow this approach create a fantastic atmosphere). It's nice to see that along side bands like Rotting Christ, Septic Flesh, and Nightfall, Strings of Ares aren't afraid of breaking with the usual hackneyed formula of writing about the processes of dying, Satanism, northern paganism, or Vikings. So as to conclude, I quote from the intro to the fifth track on _Temple to Mars_, taken form the television series, "Rome": "Our beloved republic is in the hands of madmen. This is indeed a dark day, and I stand at a fork in the road. I can surrender my arms, in accordance with the law, and watch Rome fall to tyranny and chaos. Or, I can return home with my sword in my hand and run these maniacs to the Tarpeian rock!" And this is indeed what Strings of Ares have done; and I can't wait to see what they'll do with the next album.


(article published 29/11/2010)

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