Aenaon is a Greek word meaning “infinite”, “inexhaustible”, and “eternal.” Delivering an avant-garde fusion of progressive black metal and jazz that lives up to their name, the band’s third album, Hypnosophy is much darker than their earlier entry, 2014’s Extance. An introspective and dark odyssey into the mind of vocalist and lyricist Astrous, Hypnosophy is a curious and agile beast that gripped me almost immediately, and refused to let go until the bitter end of its 54 minute cathartic journey. In pushing the limits of black metal, Aenaon go beyond the blast beat to juxtapose extended saxophone solos with thunderous metal cacophony.
The first track “Oneirodynia” opens the album with a dark and spacious intro from a lone guitar that gives way to a heavy and driving verse that will trigger an immediate rush of adrenaline as the band chants the song’s polysyllabic title, a medical term for “mental distress associated with dreaming.” Screaming vocals give way to flowing, dreamlike saxophone solos, appropriately shattered by a refrain of the song’s title. The battle between the melodic solos and tortured vocals drives home the song’s theme that dreams never offer enough solace to endure a waking nightmare, building through the lyrics: “I never felt sympathy, I never had a melody that would heal my open wounds.”
At first glance, the title of “Fire Walk With Me” built my hopes up for a song inspired by the Twin Peaks film sequel of the same name. Though there is no homage to David Lynch to be found in this track, the band delivers a blazing tribute to the legend of the Phoenix, as they explode in brilliant glory from the smoldering embers of the previous track. While the chorus of “Oneirodynia” is a lamentation of the soul tortured by fear and doubt, “Fire Walk With Me” commands the Phoenix and the listener to “Rise from the flames, with mighty talons, powerful and proud” and for fear to be “Burnt into rage, a bird that soars higher than a cloud.” This track stands out as one that will instantly find its way into my “Adrenaline” playlist.
“Earth Tomb” is a darker and more grounded tale of rebirth, with a fantastic gang-vocal chorus featuring a favorite line, “Raise me up from the dead. Welcome to Hell. Welcome to Earth.” Unfortunately, this beautiful line is undermined by a clumsily growled intonation of the song’s title. Its haunting darkness is pierced by some of the album’s most cutting and energetic guitar solos, while its sax solos plumb the depths of its murky darkness.
Track number five, “Void”, opens with a jazzy and ethereal sax jam and features ghostly guest vocals from Sofia Sarri. While potentially off-putting to some, the siren’s song of her vocals break up dissonant whispered verses that otherwise envelop the listener in the dreaded darkness of this track. At the song’s conclusion, the madness of the titular void coalesces into the errant notes of a string section that contains what sounds like a Japanese koto, a sitar, and a cello.
“Tunnel” leans heavily into thrash, with driving double-kick blast beats from drummer Nycriz underneath shredding guitars from Anax and Achilleas. The shortest and most straightforward track on the album, it more than compensates in its focused and directed energy.
The last of the standard-length tracks on the album, “Thus Ocean Swells”, opens with a watery jazz jam that exudes an unmistakable coolness that doesn’t manage to lose the urgency of the album’s theme. Make no mistake, the cool ocean swells of this nightmare mean to wreck your ship of dreams upon the cliffside and drown you in watery despair.
On “Phronesis – Psychomagic”, meandering guitars, pounding drums, and nearly unintelligible vocal samples comprise an extended introduction that leaves you with enough time to search the Internet for the meaning of the word “Phronesis”. I’ll save you the trouble – it is a wisdom that refers to “practical wisdom” or “mindfulness”. A 15-minute monster of a track, it tears the listener’s self apart and crystallizes the musical experience that is Hypnosophy, both the good and the bad, before returning them to reality.
Hypnosophy is simultaneously an album that is very familiar, reminding me in bits and pieces of Ex Deo, Zimmers Hole, Rumpelstiltskin Grinder, and Dream Theater, while also standing alone as its own unique beast. This is not an album for black metal purists and rigidly-defined genre warriors. It corrals its diverse and eclectic style into cohesive tracks that stand on their own, but falls into a familiar trap of lacking direction as a whole. Still, this is a very solid pickup and I’m left thirsting for more from Aenaon, especially an opportunity to see them live.
Best track: “Fire Walk with Me” best embraces the band’s full instrumentation and also manages to present cheesy vocal flourishes that would make Bruce Dickinson jealous
Worst track: “Thus Ocean Swells” would have worked much better as an instrumental.