Lux Occulta (PL) - (1999) My Guardian Anger - 9.5/10

Artist: Lux Occulta
Release: My Guardian Anger
Rating: 9.5/10

Surprisingly Diverse and Dynamic

Honestly, this album is ridiculously underrated. Lux Occulta had plenty of releases before this, but My Guardian Anger is easily their best. In comparison with their previous albums, it's so good that it's a bit shocking. Lux Occulta's previous two albums and lone compilation are solid symphonic black metal works. They are nothing to be ashamed of, but nothing about those works struck me as truly exceptional. With My Guardian Anger, Vogg and Martin of Decapitated fame were added on guitar and bass. I guess adding these two guys to the lineup must have somehow really inspired the songwriting and playing because My Guardian Anger is simply on a completely different level.

Stylistically, it's not too different. My Guardian Anger is still more or less symphonic black metal. I'd personally argue there's some death metal influence this time around, but those are just small details. Nevertheless, this is completely unlike any other symphonic black metal album I've ever encountered. One of the things that set this album apart is the way the band melds together the symphonic elements and the metal. For starters, there are real violins and violas used here in addition to the keyboards. This is a major plus for me that most bands in this genre don't have. More importantly, the writing of the symphonic/classical elements is completely different from the norm. Lux Occulta's use of classical instruments gives the music a strong dance (in the classical sense of course) feel. At times, the music feels very similar to some of the various dances written by the classical masters.

I wouldn't really call this album technical or progressive in the usual sense, but it is definitely much more complex and a lot more challenging than the band's past works. The song structures tend to move away from verse-chorus, and nearly every song has multiple tempo changes and surprises. Immediately, the opening song, The Heresiarch, shows off this brilliant songwriting. This particular track is very nonlinear and develops all sorts of different riffs and melodic ideas. There's quite a few tempo changes, some usage of acoustic guitars, and excellent utilization of the strings throughout its runtime. Despite all of this variety, it never feels out of focus or incoherent. Every development happens naturally and of course, there's still loads and loads of good riffs to really sink your teeth into.

The Heresiarch is probably one of the more complex songs on the album, but the rest of it (minus the transitional instrumental tracks) is not too far off. Nothing is off-the-wall complex like some of the crazier technical metal outfits out there, but it's certainly not a cakewalk either. Throughout the entire album, the songwriting and instrumental playing is very nuanced and very detailed. The combination of the string section and the keyboards is used ingeniously to accent certain melodies, portray certain atmospheres, or even to signal an abrupt shift in the music. The guitar work is nothing short of breathtaking. Vogg and Peter rip through a variety of impressive rhythmic patterns and riffs. And of course, Vogg's guitar solos and leads are absolutely sublime.

One of most remarkable things about My Guardian Anger is how well it utilizes dynamics. Metal is a genre that is generally always loud, all the time. There's nothing inherently wrong with that. I love it when band play fast and loud just like any self-respecting metalhead. However, Lux Occulta manages to naturally insert many calmer, softer sections into their songs. This contrast isn't shoved in just for the sake of seeming sophisticated or something. No, these sections logically arise from the songwriting as a way to give listeners a breather, subvert expectations, and also highlight the intense parts where the band does go all out with the blast beats and the metal.

Although every song on here is more or less in the same style, they all are still quite different from each other. You never feel like the same ground is being tread twice thanks to the strong variety of material on display. You get the more accessible metal numbers (Kiss My Sword), the big epic (The Opening of the Eleventh Sephirah), the uplifting closer (Mane-Tekel-Fares), and so much more. I'm fond of every track, but I'd say I'd lean towards the opening song, The Heresiarch, and the more brutal number, Library on Fire as my favorites.

I'm not sure if this album will appeal much to your typical black metal fan. It's definitely strongly on the melodic side of the fence and is relatively polished for the genre. However, I could easily see fans of progressive and technical extreme metal styles digging this one. Regardless of where you stand, I still think this album is at least worth checking out. In this seemingly crowded niche of symphonic black metal, Lux Occulta found a way to create an album that's truly unique and exceptional.
Occasionally, I write Western and Japanese music reviews.
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