Golden Hour: a massive epic of highly immersive and transcendental atmospheric black metal / doom

Awenden, Golden Hour, United States, Realm and Ritual, RAR038 limited edition cassette (2020)

Featuring themes that include respect for nature and regular cycles of change – the arrangement of songs on the album from “Dawn” through to “A Memory of Dawn” and the outro title track mirrors the transition of day from sunrise to sunset – along with opposition to war and violence for their own sake, “Golden Hour”, the second album for Awenden, is a massive epic of highly atmospheric and often beautiful, even transcendental black metal / post-black metal / doom metal music. Awenden were (was?) originally based in Rhode Island in the northeast US but later moved to Olympia in Washington state; the influence of the Cascadian black metal scene with its emphasis on damp or humid atmospheres, BM guitar showers and nature-based themes is very strong on this album. Guest musicians appearing on “Golden Hour” include guitarist Ray H and bass player Lock W, both of whom play or have played in Northwest US / southern British Columbian Cascadian BM bands Eigenlicht, Fauna, Ignis and Skagos.

The album features long passages of atmospheric immersive instrumental BM tremolo guitar textures which in some songs might alternate or entwine with quiet sections of near-acoustic guitar melody and a pensive dreamy mood or a run of tremolo guitar chords or piano melody. Vocals can sometimes be hard to distinguish from the acid-rain BM guitar showers. One track that is very different from the rest is “Ritual Exile” which combines the damp-forest atmosphere with booming drone-dominated doom metal that has a slight crumbly edge and evolves into a very martial song mixing prog-rock bombast, synthesiser wash, death metal and black metal vocals and crunching bass riffs.

“Weapons of War / Bury ‘Em” probably has the best fusion of black metal, post-BM and doom, the track negotiating a path veering from one layer of hard-driving grinding riffs to another, more shrill layer of high-pitched tremolo guitar chords, to move onto something quieter yet brimming with chaos and brutal violence. It has an angular awkward quality as though the different musics that have gone into the track are struggling to maintain their identities yet can’t do without the other genres challenging them. In its last few moments the track becomes ominous with thumping percussion and a cacophony of ghost voices towards a climax … or anti-climax.

The title track is a disappointment for me, it being heavy-handed with the melancholy and the long, even boring meanderings of epic atmospheric BM / post-BM / doom instrumental music. Unexpectedly perhaps the best songs on the album are the short pieces “Voices” and “A Memory of Dawn” for both delineating succinctly in a few minutes complete and distinct if otherworldly universes of ethereal voices, moody droning guitars, transcendental cosmic ambient shimmer and deep gravity.

A very ambitious album, perhaps not succeeding completely in what it sets out to do, and including some not-great moments of monumental filler, but certainly reaching for high ideals and achieving moments of astonishing beauty and power: this is as much a real golden hour (well, almost, the album is about 52 minutes long) for Awenden, as it is in its title. In the years to come, this sophomore release may well enjoy the status of a cult classic of its style.

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