It’s been six years since we’ve gotten a studio full-length from the epic metal titans in Atlantean Kodex in the form of The White Goddess, the album that solidified the band’s place amongst the upper echelons of modern heavy metal royalty. And, at the risk of spoiling the review, it’s safe to say the wait was justified. The Course Of Empire emerges triumphant, a well-written, well-produced album that easily holds its ranks with the band’s discography. However, this was to be expected, as Atlantean Kodex tend to work comfortably in a realm that their peers are still striving to achieve. While the leap from the band’s debut of The Golden Bough to The White Goddess was measured (yet noticeable, I don’t think many rank the debut over the masterwork of their sophomore effort), it felt like a natural progression that hit gold right out of the gates.
The way Atlantean Kodex have matured over their 14-year career, they’d have to go out of their way to release a disappointment, which, as previously stated, The Course Of Empire most certainly is not. The band still know how to make a hell of an entrance, as the leads over the introductory track “The Alpha And The Occident” bleed the uplifting power that flowed in the veins of their predecessors in Manowar and later Solstice, soaring like a falcon over the mid-tempo doom of Candlemass in a marriage between the US and European styles of epic metal. The first proper track, “The People Of The Moon,” marches out of the introduction with a power in the riffs that is further strengthened by the Hammerheart levels of reverb in the production, making Atlantean Kodex sound like a juggernaut barreling through a dreamy, distant atmosphere of yesteryear.
By the first solo, it is clear why Atlantean Kodex are such masters of their craft – there isn’t a whole lot of technical flashiness going on here; the root of the band’s power is firmly set in their songwriting – in the structure, in the choice of notes and changes, of the building of suspense and tension to the ultimate release. Markus’ vocals simply rise above the music, accentuated with plenty of subtle choral harmonies to drive home his lyrics of near-forgotten ancient myths from a perspective that feels both anthropological and theological as much as it does mythological. This is further explored in “The Lion Of Chaldea,” the most anthemic and single-friendly track of the album, focusing on the earliest incarnations of civilized man in the eras of Babylon and Mesopotamia from the first-person perspective of its peoples, by way of a catchy chorus and triumphant verse. There is an unmatched feeling of pride here for the origins of humanity and culture that serve as the band’s primary muse.
The band have chosen to build more into the faster mid-tempos, and it pays off the second the rolling drum fills thunder from beyond the plodding build of the intro to “Chariots.” The vocals wash over like a strong breeze over the roaring tempest of the riffs. The Manowar influence is felt throughout, yet it is clearly just that – an influence. Atlantean Kodex know just how to draw upon their inspirations without compromising their own sound, dropping into ethereal doom passages that hit just as hard as the faster, more aggressive power.
While the interludes on The White Goddess were certainly well-utilized, breaking up the five main songs that made up the meat of the album, it seems as though Atlantean Kodex have woven them more organically into the structure of their songs. Aside from the intro and outro tracks, there are only two dedicated interludes, “The Innermost Light” and “Spell Of The Western Sea,” the former of which is almost a full song in its own right. So intricately threaded are they into the song transitions that it serves as a strength to the crescendos found on The Course Of Empire, which by “A Secret Byzantium” is proving to be a fully realized work. It’s as though the entire album was written as a single journey, with each piece being essential to the construction of the work as a whole; each full track stands on its own as an actualized example of what makes Atlantean Kodex such an incredibly realized unit. Every element here serves the songwriting, from the slow, doomy riffs to the subtle key work. The plodding of the drums never interrupts the flow of the tune and the bass sits comfortably beneath it all, emphasizing the big hits with plenty of room to breathe.
If there is a single track that encompasses the philosophy of Atlantean Kodex, it’s “He Who Walks Behind The Years.” No other song on the album quite captures a desire to connect with the past, a craving to bond with a time that has almost become forgotten in the modern age. Markus’ vocal performance in particular shines through on this one, as though bearing the burden of clinging to a near-forgotten ancestry that has been washed away by an ever-changing world. While The Course Of Empire may not quite have a “Sol Invictus” that grabs out of the gate, the album is paced a bit more wisely than The White Goddess, taking its time to arrive at its climax of the title track. Everything feels just a little more grandiose—the guitar solos are a little longer and more emotive, the subtle choir beneath the chorus tugs just a touch harder on the heart, and the riffs themselves sound more profound, as though they’re just a little louder without even touching the volume knob.
Atlantean Kodex remains at the intersection of art and history, drawing their influence from the limitless well of the bygone eras of humanity and channeling them into emotive, inspired epic heavy metal. While it would be unfair to rank The Course Of Empire over The White Goddess without the years the previous album had to sink in, it is clear that their latest work stands tall indeed next to their previous opus and demonstrates a band unwilling to rest on its laurels, constantly challenging themselves to improve their craft with the same veracity and conviction they display in their playing. In a world that quickly forgets its past to move on to the next new thing, Atlantean Kodex will be remembered.