Album Review: KHORS The Flame of Eternity's Decline
Hailing from Kharkiv in the Ukraine, the pagan black metal band Khors coalesced in 2004, summoned into existence by bass-guitarist Khorus (ex-Astrofaes), drummer Khaoth (ex-Hate Forest) and vocalist/guitarist Helg (Ulvegr). Compatriots both musically and philosophically with better known acts Nokturnal Mortum and Drudkh, Khors has crafted five excellent full-length albums of atmospheric majesty, with a sixth album on the way. Their debut full-length, The Flame of Eternity's Decline, first saw life in 2005 via Oriana Music, and helped to solidify Khors as a force to be reckoned with. Now, ten years later, the band is re-releasing that first cold breath on Svarga Music, remixed and remastered and ready to turn some heads.
To those for whom this album escaped notice, take heed. The redo appears to be no empty gesture, as immediately some improvements are noticeable. On the original, the snare was mixed a bit too high, almost shrill, which threw things off just a bit. For this version, a sharpness and clarity that was absent ten years ago helps elevate the mix to levels of grandeur befitting the material on hand. The improved production is most noticeable on album opener "Wounds Of The Past," as well as on the epic, if not grammatically precise "Trees Are Remembers." The heady breakdown on the latter song about 2:20 seconds in is rendered as viciously as it was on the original. The difference is like being cut open with an ordinary blade versus one dragged up and down the whetstone before tasting your flesh.
One of the strongest songs on the album, "Eyes of Eternal Lonelyness" erupts from the speakers sporting its new production, louder than its prime incarnation, but perhaps not quite as effective. For some reason, this is the only song on the new version that doesn't sound as good as the old one. There was something about the murkiness of the older mix that carried something a little bit special, an added feeling, that doesn't quite translate onto the latest mix. Despite this, the newer version of this song still sounds monstrous in its own right. New fans of Khors will not have this issue.
Keyboards, for those who enjoy them, do augment the music quite well on the new mix. On the interlude "Breath," the elder mix did feature that old-school sound that European bands like Dargaard, Summoning, and Limbonic Art sprinkled liberally through their own releases. It does stand for a special time, and though it might not be as modernized as some productions, held and continues to hold a special place in our hearts. "Breath" circa 2015 sounds like it was recorded in 2015, and nostalgia aside it sounds pretty amazing. On "Moan of the Grief," the vocals are vicious, while the riffs are just polished enough to pop but still gritty enough to remain subterranean. Khaoth's double bass still has that rat-tat-tat quality, which fans should be thankful for. Its still Khors, despite the face-lift.
"Spirit of Fury" is another spot where the lowered snare sound benefits in the new mix as opposed to the old. This song live could churn a catatonic cadre of nuns into a circle pit, and the addition of more clearly enunciated riffs, bass-lines, and keyboard atmospherics benefits the result. The epic mid-section is rendered even more so. The pride and cultural identity exhibited by this band named for a Slavic sun god, comes across with such no-bullshit intent, it is impossible not to champion this sound. The sheer heavy metal bliss of the song's final twenty-thirty seconds will lay waste to fan's eardrums.
The title (ish) track, "Flame of Eternity," is quite similar to its original incarnation. This is a good thing, as the trailing keyboard notes behind the riffs still sound wonderfully offset. The band preserves that mood for this wistful song, whose gorgeous updrafts underpinned by steady double-bass, personifies the attachment they must feel for the forests, wetlands, and prosaic fields of Ukraine. The piano solo in the middle sounds vast, and doesn't have to compete with a higher-than-necessary snare drum.
It is worthy to note that there are other mixes, notably 'moon' mixes, of "Wounds of the Past" and "Spirit of Fury," decidedly more down-tuned and vicious than the original mix. However, the Svarga Music re-release of the album is both an essential collector's piece as well as a good jumping off point for new fans. The release comes in the form of a very impressive digipak, and with further re-releases of their back catalog in the works, along with upcoming new album Night Falls Onto The Fronts Of Ours (Candlelight Records), Khors is poised to hit the back half of the decade hard. Fans of atmospheric pagan black metal, rejoice.