Autonoesis died two years ago. A debut album, that was it. The Beginning of The End. Probably not the most promising way to start a review, as The End is so often seen as a negative. But death metal isn’t always about The End–I mean, sure, there are plenty of brutal albums that obsess over its physical product, relishing in the spurting blood and gore that comes with a chainsaw decapitation (and bless ’em for it). But there are also the metal albums that revel in the mystery of death, and Autonoesis was one such work. The cover art set the scene: a solitary robed figure (Autonoesis) somberly approaching their certain fate in the colossal mountain fortress that loomed over them in the glaring shadows of nightfall. Within the fortress, the tale of Autonoesis was masterfully and melodically woven in the fabrics of terror using death, black, and thrash metal with impressive technical prowess as they confronted the horrors beyond physical pain–horrors that ultimately brought their demise on the closing epic, “Death, And The Cosmic Return.” They frantically riffed and shredded their way through their final battle on the “Death” half of the song–defiantly roaring out, “Solitude in and endless sea of dismay, I AM DEATH!” An uncomfortable silence hit, the hissing of the cymbal rolled exhaling like a final breath. The “And The Cosmic Return” part played out like an epilogue, the spirit of Autonoesis finding peace at last as they transcended into the cosmos. Delectable sweep picking shimmered liked a welcoming light as the band faded from existence. It felt like such a beautiful ending, Autonoesis drifting away into the Great Beyond, finding the solitude they so yearned for at last…
…The End, however, was only The Beginning.
Autonoesis are summoned from their ethereal wanderings.
The gravity of the “Moon Of Foul Magics” pulls Autonoesis out of the causal realm and into the physical. That lone traveler emerges in the night sky with a quick guitar slide and some delectable death/thrash riffing that builds in intensity as though the figure is violently torn from its rest, closing in on its return to Earth. That familiar guitar tone, that almost Gothenburg melodic style (that thrashiness in Slaughter Of The Soul comes to mind)–Autonoesis returns! Its hood flies back as it lets out a necrotic scream–its voice has changed. It’s more blackened, raspier. Colder. Dead, and resurrected. The figure picks up pace as the drums come pounding in, the stars around it becoming a blur as it bolts toward the terrestrial sphere. The cloak begins to tear away as the band hit warp speed in the form of of tremolo crescendo, building the tension until it snaps off with a breakout riff. What is revealed as the drums drop into a breakneck one-two beat is that the Autonoesis that transcended at the end of 2020 has been not only charged, but transformed by the void into a multi-tentecled Elder God–and this god is furious about being summoned from its slumber. Spitting ravenous, razor-sharp thrash riffs on the rhythm guitar, wielding fast-than-light licks, and flickering tapping sprees on the leads, Autonoesis tears its way with great vengeance and furious anger toward the world that summoned it from its peace, and does so with not only competence, but mastery. It almost hypnotizes with its melodic charm, making it easy to overlook just how technically proficient it truly is.
Case in point: the song breaks down about halfway through, slowing to the chug of death that grasps for dear life onto the overlying melody. It peters off into an acoustic passage, as though this otherworldly beast laid its vengeance to rest for a higher, more personally satisfying purpose as it longs for the escape of the void from whence it came. The fingers of the leads bleed of a classically trained jazz guitarist in a “soft Opeth” moment of vulnerablility. The solo cries out over the eased tempo and velvety guitarwork before it erupts in the style of glistening, shimmering stars sweep picking that concluded Autonoesis. What was once the ultimate climax of transcending into the unknown has become but a tool in the eyes of the post-death Autonoesis, and an effective one at that. It’s Surfing With The Alien, with the caveat being that wave The Alien rides crests on the complete and total destruction of mankind.
As with the opening track of “Exile,” Autonoesis continue to take seeds; utilizing the aspects which felt like background etchings on the debut, feeding into them on “Raise The Dead.” A particularly notable moment on Autonoesis was dropping an ignorant, Bolt Thrower-style riff into the middle of “Visions,” which, in contrast, was one of, if not the, most progressive metal tracks on the first record. In the context of Moon Of Foul Magics as a whole, that’s exactly what “Raise The Dead” is: a primitive blaze of delectable black/thrash dropped into a grander work, only this time the blazen appreciation of Simply Badass Riffery is executed as a full song. The Bathory nod in the title is fully appropriate as well as earned–this could easily fit in on The Return. From the opening whip-strikes to the fiery tempo, the song strikes through all the marks. Even the solo–light years beyond Quorthon’s technical ability–still captures the urgency, the feeling, of tracks like “Bestial Lust” or “Possessed.” It makes Autonoesis an even more formidable creature: one that has not only exceptional skill at bending convention, but the ability to delver an absolutely deadly strike in a good, old-fashioned punch to the face.
The guitar isn’t the only instrument to get the spotlight: The bass gets its full due as well. Beneath the wailing wah of guitar on “Crypt Of Thought,” with that thrashy, true-metal-of-death-blackened-by-the-fires-of-Hell heart still beating in the songwriting, the bass runs all over. It shares the burden of supporting the melody with equal technical prowess as the guitar, particularly with the especially flamboyant low-end feature at the 3:05 mark. It’s not quite a solo, as the guitar continues a full assault, but it may as well be. And while it doesn’t particularly sound like Motörhead, when it drops back into the return, it does hit that Philthy Phil/Lemmy balance of sharing the lead duties between the respective instruments. The up-and-down bass trades off with flurrying guitar licks, darting and weaving together to craft something greater than the some of its parts. They carry the melody together–flashy, sure, but never at the expense of the song. It’s perfectly placed in the context of the full album too, like a reminder to listen for the details and not just get swept away by the flash of the blade. A multi-tentacled beast, indeed!
As if challenging themselves to play on understated themes merely hinted at before, the blackened side of Autonoesis shines with a particular obsidian on the appropriately titled, “Nihility, Endless Winter.” There were touches of black metal on Autonoesis, and while Moon successfully leans heavier into that side of the band, “Nihility” may be their most blue-cover worthy tune to date. Sure, there’s been plenty of Swedishisms from the thrashy, melodic death of Slaughter Of The Soul-era At The Gates and the aggressive hooks of Bathory’s The Return up until this point, but the melodic black side of the band really reflects like a glare on obsidian steel on this one. The way they carve their signature melodicism out of the works of Dissection, Sacramentum, Necrophobic, Vinterland, and Dawn… well, let’s just say this song wouldn’t feel out of place on any of these bands’ seminal works. The riffs just just have the same bite, sinking their teeth directly into whatever part of the brain is distinctly pleased by being penetrated by the pointed hooks crafted from blue steel. Of course, Autonoesis can’t strictly copy one style, as the ending riffs following the solo dissolve into a singular chugging riff à la the bridge of “Raining Blood,” including the cut-time drums. While it may not lead to the epic conclusion like the closing track of Slayer’s third, it fades majestically, topped with some ominous star-shredding guitar, again using a “best-of” element as merely another tool in the toolbox.
“Valhöhl,” in appropriation to its namesake, plays out like the instrumental “Elegy” did on Autonoesis–an instrumental before the final fight. Only this time the instrumental fully develops into a tension-building epic with a huge debut to Hammerheart-era Bathory, complete with ethereal synth choirs and reverb-soaked distant chanting that give way to folkish, epic doom riffs as they build and crescendo. It’s a perfect interlude that nails the pure-hearted, larger-than-life cinematic majesty of early MANOWAR. For any other band, it’d be a great setup to a singular mighty conclusion to an album. Yet Autonoesis dare to take the approach of Iron Maiden’s Senjustu and close with not one, but three sagas to draw the curtain on Moon Of Foul Magics.
While the debut raises an eyebrow in the explicit use of the drum machine, upon repeated listens it integrated its way into the charm of the record. Something about the solitary creation of Autonoesis added to its charm and mystery. Much in the way demos recorded through a towel draped over a boombox color the earnest efforts of yesteryear, the honesty of the recording transcends its means. While the drum tones on Moon Of Foul Magics are certainly a bit warmer than the cold, inhuman playing on Autonoesis, they still retain a programmed quality that almost holds back a track like “The Conjurer” – that is, until the climax hits. The human aspect of the string work breathes life over the robotic precision of the percussion on the hard-hitting thrash riffs, and breath of relief as the song descends into another jazzy breakdown. There’s thought put into the way the dynamics of the drums are presented that reveals more in the details of the production–this isn’t just a guitar teacher shredding over a drum machine. There’s too much care put into presenting the best final product possible within its means to boil it down to something so simple. It’s emotive; it feels alive in spite of its inhuman element–particularly when that three-way lead between the guitars and bass breaks out of the blasty blackened section around the 4:00 mark. Its so liquid, melting the stiff, wrought iron into a smoldering magma.
It’s not often a band improves so much in every department. Autonoesis has become more than the sum of their parts on every level. Moon Of Foul Magics is not only a more ambitious work, but it’s more emotive as well. Those strained howls that streak across “On Black Wings Of Eternity” give way to a defiant, triumphant, Iron Maiden-esque gallop complete with triple guitar attack as the the stars swirl faster around Autonoesis. By the time the final epic of “Descending The Void” sends the entity spiraling into a fading black hole, the album’s sixty-six minutes have felt like forty. Moon Of Foul Magics is a captivating, enthralling work that not only outlines the world of Autonoesis, but pulls the listener into it. There’s so much to appreciate and dissect, so many angles it can be approached from. Something you can recommend to fans of At The Gates, Aura Noir, Vektor, Death, Opeth, Dark Tranquility, Emperor, Yngwie, Bathory, Sadus, Mekong Delta, The Chasm, Dissection, Necrophobic, Anacrusis, and on and on. There’s plenty of cross appeal, yet no element feels watered down. Every instrument, every riff is seamlessly intertwined, as if suspended between equal gravitational pulls. Moon Of Foul Magics truly is a testament to the perseverance and potential of underground metal in all its forms.
As Autonoesis descend the void, I can’t help but feeling, hoping, they will return once again from the dead…