Only founded in 2015, it’s remarkable that folk death metallers Downcast Twilight have managed to produce so accomplished an album as ‘Under the wings of the Aquila’, a ten-track journey through the pages of history aided and abetted by author Marios Koutsoukos.
Opening with ‘Rex Nemorensis’, the band immediately set a dreamy tone with carefully layered death metal riffing and acoustic guitars (Michalis Elafros), whilst the inevitable addition of violin (Shannon Lee Stott-Rigsbee) is tastefully embedded into the whole so that the music is atmospheric but never far from a monstrous riff or two. Over it all Vitold Buznaev delivers the vocals with admirable power and clarity and the result is a song that eases the listener nicely into the album. ‘Soldier of Pompeii’ juxtaposes staccato riffs and whimsical folk, albeit erring a touch too far towards the latter for this reviewer’s taste. Nonetheless, there’s a satisfyingly chunky riff underpinning the bulk of the song and folk-metal fans will love it. ‘The witches of Anglesey’ sees the band jump geographical location and into a swirling maelstrom of heavy riffing that gets the adrenalin flowing and if the folky elements remain on the high side, there’s no questioning the power of Vitold’s gruff bark as he narrates the track. An album highlight, ‘the tyrant and the sage’ has richly textured synth elements adding deoth to the composition whilst the oft told tale of Caesar returns once more on the portentous ‘the Ides of March’, a track with a gruelling opening riff and a melodic chorus that makes some headway towards capturing the sense of betrayal inherent in that much-related death.
The second half of the album opens with the satisfyingly heavy ‘Death in Alexandria’, a track in which the folk elements are dialled back as a surging riff and Arch Enemy-esque vocal (courtesy of Eva Oswald) is unleashed. Not as lengthy as you might expect, the track fades suddenly as the band head into the Eastern inflection of ‘Orgiastic Lupercalia’, a track that recalls early Therion with its off-kilter instrumentation and deathly roars. Undoubtedly the album’s heaviest moment, the blistering tech metal of ‘The Ironclad legion’ does much to summon the horror of a military monster on the rampage. Utterly ferocious, it demonstrates the devastating proficiency of which Downcast twilight are capable. Hardly pausing to let their collective foot off the pedal, ‘Horrors of the Hercynian forest’ is built around an electrifying riff and propulsive drums before ‘the Red Queen’ brings the album to a satisfyingly elegant close thanks to the hauntingly beautiful vocals of Hildr Valkyrie and the progressive-edged fretless bass of Chris Zindros. It’s a fitting finale to the album and the end of a frequently mesmerising journey.
Folk-infused death metal can be a difficult balancing act. Slip a little too far into either folk or metal territory and you run the risk of losing the focus of the band, focus too obsessively on form and you’ll end up a one-note act, incapable of evolution. For the most part, Downcast Twilghlight avoid these pitfalls. Part of their success lies in their recruitment of Marios Koutsoukos, whose lyrics so effectively evoke bygone civilisations but the band are also musically very capable. Although there are moments, especially in the first half, where the focus does drift a touch too far into folk for these tastes, that’s as much a production decision as it is an issue with the arrangements and the album overall is an impressively coherent body of work that is well worth exploring. 8