Artist: A Diadem of Dead Stars
Album: Kingdoms Bathed in Golden Light
Genre: Atmospheric Black Metal
A Diadem of Dead Stars is a band I have been following since their inception with 2014’s The Mist Bearer. While I thought the band had some potential, nothing really jumped out at me as really exciting. They have since released a few brief demos and EPs, culminating in their sophomore full length, Kingdoms Bathed in Golden Light. While the band’s sound has not drastically changed in the brief two years of their existence, I feel like Kingdoms Bathed in Golden Light is a stronger album that once again demonstrates this band’s potential, as well as some fairly consistent growth.
The album is pretty lengthy, clocking in at just over an hour with the inclusion of the bonus song (more on that later), but it really is just two titanic songs introduced by two brief pieces. The album opens with one of the brief pieces, which is essentially just a few minutes of tone setting. While I would have expected something along the lines of the acoustic pieces heard throughout The Mist Bearer, instead this introductory song is one droning heavy note repeated while a bit of ambience trails its way through the song. It sets a much darker tone to the album, eschewing the pretty acoustics for something more assertive.
However, this good start leads into what I would call the weaker of the two features of this album, “Earth’s Bereavement”, which starts on rather unsure footing. The beginning of this song is spent with with two sets of vocals, both lacking the passion of the opening song. One set of vocals is plain spoken word, while the other is a very ethereal moaning. Both are very quiet and understated, and while this could potentially work, I think it’s placement in the album, and even the song itself, is ill-advised. Luckily, this rather weak opening gives way to a stronger mid-section, and the rest of “Earth’s Bereavement” mostly makes up for its beginning. We finally hear what I think really defines the band in terms of its sound: the keys. While this key section isn’t the strongest, it does set the stage for later greatness. The vocals are also finally replaced by A Diadem of Dead Stars’ usual vocal style, a nicely done howl, although it is still quite buried. The end of this song is my favourite part of it, combining a sorrowful piano section with an Italian spoken word sample.
Moving on to the second half of the album, we have the second interlude, this time fitting exactly into the expected sound: acoustic guitar melodies. But I’m not complaining, I actually think that Pilgrim, the solo artist behind A Diadem of Dead Stars, is quite talented with his acoustic guitar melodies. This interlude transitions perfectly to the second feature of this album, “A Crown of Clouds On The Mountain’s Brow”, ending on chanting vocals and starting up with bird calls and more acoustic guitar. This entire section reminds me very strongly of the great Falls of Rauros.
“A Crown of Clouds On The Mountain’s Brow” is an excellent song, combining everything that I like about A Diadem of Dead Stars. It has the acoustic opening, followed by some great black metal sections, it really nicely uses keys to punctuate the song, and it feels far shorter than its 27-minute run time. One thing that this song does better than “Earth’s Bereavement” is use the keys and clean notes more. I really like the sound of the keys. A Diadem of Dead Stars uses a fairly raw production; not that it’s harsh or anything like that, but the instrumentals are very muted. Likewise, the vocals are very buried and quiet. However, when it comes the keys, they are crisp and clean, piercing through the misty drone of the rest of the instruments. I think this is a brilliant approach to using these kinds of instrumentals; pianos and synths are already a very light and airy instrument, but this effect is enhanced by the production, making the few notes that they play stand above the rest.
My major gripe this album is petty, but I will say it anyways: I don’t like the bonus song. It is purely ambient synth work and while sometimes that does work, this piece has no place in the album. It doesn’t work at the end, and I don’t think it would work in the middle. It just doesn’t recall any of the melodies or ideas we just heard, nor does it fit into the sound the rest of the album has. But, I digress; it’s a bonus track and obviously not part of the album as a whole.
To sum up, I think Kingdoms Bathed in Golden Light is much stronger than The Mist Bearer and demonstrates a lot of musical growth for Pilgrim. I really hope that they’ve come to the same conclusions about the clean keys that I have and how much it works with the sound that A Diadem of Dead Stars has created, and I will continue to follow this band in the hopes of more excellent songs.
Get it on Bandcamp: https://adiademofdeadstars.bandcamp.com/album/kingdoms-bathed-in-golden-light