Originally written by Erik Thomas.
Hungary’s Sear Bliss is one of those critically acclaimed bands I had heard mentioned around the periphery of black metal’s elite, particularly Glory and Perdition, but never got around to hearing, so curiosity got the better of me as I signed up to review their latest opus, and while I’m glad I did, I’m not quite as convinced of their cult status after listening to this one album.
That’s not to say The Arcanum Odyssey isn’t a great album; at times, it is. But I guess my expectations after hearing so much praise from many other esteemed metal writers were so high, that one album, and one such as this, would have never fulfilled them.
For those like me, that are unfamiliar with Sear Bliss, they play a sort of restrained, symphonic, epic black metal with their ‘thing’ being the use of actual brass section to deliver the symphonics rather than hokey synths (though synths are used also). And therein lies my first minor issue-I really could not tell the frequent trombone/trumpet sections were real-they actually sound synthesized; still when used they do add an air of epic grandeur, not the cheesy over the top theatrics of Bal-Sagoth or Turisas, but a typically Eastern European, austere and somber sense of regal aloofness.
The music lurking behind the brass injections is my second issue. It’s generally a sort of malaised, mid paced black/war metal akin to Lord Belial’s newest effort or maybe Summoning’s purposeful yet lethargic gait. It’s rather laid back and plodding with the occasional burst of Scandinavian fury, but on the whole, nothing really too rousing, which is I guess what I was expecting. In truth, there’s not too many of the riffs that I can recall. Now, all that being said, when the band launches into one of their many brass led moments (I guess the ‘choruses’), there is some truly magnificent moments on display; sections of “A Deathly Illusion”, “Lost and Not Found”, almost big bandish “Omen of Doom” and the nine minute “Somewhere” deliver some absolutely breathtaking moments. And that sort of sums up The Arcane Odyssey for me; the album seems comprised of just a few stellar moments mired in forgetful music, not entire, memorable songs that make a complete album. I could not even try to recall a riff or beat from tracks like “Thorns of Deception” or “The Venomous Grace” that were not brass backed.
Admittedly, I probably need to check out the lauded Glory and Perdition before passing judgement on the band, but going by The Arcanum Odyssey alone, I’m venturing to say that despite their different approach to symphonic black metal, Sear Bliss might be a bit overrated, as I hear nothing that makes me want to elevate them into the same category as, say, Emperor or Borknagar, as far as black metal’s elite. In fact, based on my limited exposure to both bands, I’d say Negurã Bunget are far and away the better Eastern Bloc export.