Album Review: Aquilus – Bellum I

Album Review: Aquilus - Bellum I
Reviewed by Paul Hutchings

There are times when you really struggle to find the words to describe what you are listening too. Often, that’s because the music is bland, repetitive, or just plain boring. On occasion though, the reason is exactly the opposite. It’s because the music is something special. ’Bellum I’ is one of those moments.

Formed in 2004, Aquilus is the work of one astonishingly talented musician. Enter Horace Rosenqvist, a multi-instrumentalist from Melbourne, Australia. Two early demos bred whispers before an E.P., ‘Arbor’ was released in 2007. The first album, ‘Griseus’ followed four years later. It’s been quiet ever since, although rumours of music massing in the Southern Hemisphere grew. With so much work being poured into Aquilus, Rosenqvist made the decision to split his work into two parts. ‘Bellum I’ is the first to be released and it is quite amazing.

Now I admit I’m not familiar with the earlier releases, although with the use of streaming sites that will change shortly. I’m taking this release with no baggage of previous offerings. The combination of styles is showcased in eight tracks that last just over an hour. At times cinematic, part pagan metal, part black and folk metal, part classical and European in feel, it’s a release that is wrought with emotion and atmosphere.

To identify influences could be a long game, but there are ample bands whose own music is clearly inspirational to this enigmatic project. Metal bands include Opeth, Katatonia and Anathema, whilst more mainstream sounds from Metallica and folk metal dip in and out. As for the classical influences, I’m a luddite in this area but I understand that Chopin and Rachmaninov are amongst those whose music is noticeable.

Album Review: Aquilus – Bellum I

That’s not to dismiss Aquilus as a complex yet plagiarised soup, for the music that is produced is quite spectacular. Sweeping cinematic soundscapes, sonic blasts, and combinations of clean and dark visions all combine to leave the listener enchanted, captivated, and stunned in equal measure. The use of piano is supported by a magical blend of acoustic elements with an assortment of acoustic guitars, violins, mandolas, fipple flutes, balalaika, gusli and bowed psaltery all added into the mix. Add roaring electric guitar, thunderous bass, and drums as well as ethereal synths and you’ve got a combination which makes ‘Bellum I’ spectacular.

Each track is intricate, with most lengthy opuses that allow exploration, dramatic interplay and changes in tempo and mood. ‘Into Wooded Hollows’ introduces the snarling black metal vocals, ‘Eternal Unrest’ with its inevitable comparisons with Opeth (Blackwater Park era) has euphoric moments that see ferocious blast beats combine with sanguine, ghostly piano and orchestral movements. ‘Embered Waters’ draws on Eastern fusions, the slow burn and echoes of strings providing a malevolent, brooding, and sinister feel which segues seamlessly into the massive nine-minute masterpiece of ‘Lucille’s Gate’. Repeated plays reveal much but leave more to explore, with deliciously shimmering elements combining to provide almost extra-terrestrial experiences. The hugely emotional finale ‘Empyreal Nightsky’, which closes the album provides another opportunity for the extraordinary musicianship to shine.

Such is the beauty of this record that it’s almost impossible not to become fully immersed from the early plays, leaving the opportunity to immerse oneself with the sheer scale of this work. It’s an album that has sneaked into my year end release highlights. I defy anyone who listens to it to not be moved by what is possibly the most incredible record of 2021.

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