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Review: Bal-Sagoth - Starfire Burning Upon the Ice-Veiled Throne of Ultima Thule
Starfire Burning Upon the Ice-Veiled Throne of Ultima Thule

Label: Cacophonous Records
Year released: 1996
Duration: 57:36
Tracks: 11
Genre: Black Metal

Rating: 4.5/5

Review online: March 19, 2003
Reviewed by: Sargon the Terrible
Readers Rating
Starfire Burning Upon the Ice-Veiled Throne of Ultima Thule

Rated 4.16/5 (83.23%) (31 Votes)

I don’t generally care for Black Metal, and I hate bands that use narration, which makes it even weirder that I love Bal-Sagoth. Concept albums are usually pretty stupid, so how much stupider is a concept band? And yet Bal-Sagoth are incredibly cool. Their first album "A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria" laid down their basic style, but this was their second CD, where they really defined it, and they haven’t really changed since.

For those who are unfamiliar with the British epic metallers, their style is easy to describe but hard to really imagine until you’ve heard it. Bal-Sagoth play a bombastic style of epic metal basically rooted in Black Metal but with prominent keyboards that emulate movie soundtracks and vocals that alternate between raspy screams and a deep narrative voice. With their over-the-top song titles, melodramatic narration and overblown fantasy-barbarian lyrical themes borrowing everything from Robert E Howard to Lovecraft to comic books, Bal-Sagoth should be insufferable. But somehow they combine all their cheesy elements into a whole that’s so stupid, it's cool.

This is my favorite Bal-Sagoth CD, from the symphonic prologue "Black Dragons Soar" through the epic "To Dethrone the Witch-Queen of Mytos K’unn" and the Poledouris-influenced title track, everything about this album just shines. Everything is heavy and furious, but there is enough musical variety to keep things interesting. The symphonic passages are beautifully arranged and composed, and the production is first-rate. As always, I wish the guitars were given more prominence in the mix, as they are too dry in my opinion. The one real flaw in this CD isn’t even the band’s fault: it’s the bullshit "Interactive CD-ROM track" that is nothing more than an ad for Cacophonous shit. I’m sure the stuff on here isn’t even available any longer, but the track is still here, taking up space on an otherwise superlative CD. Thank the Gods of the North for my CD burner, as I can make a copy of the album free of this kind of crap.

The CD package is really cool, with a much better cover painting than some later Bal-Sagoth CDs. The lyrics are all inside, along with the narration and some other text that helps tell the full stories of the songs. There’s also a band pic and some cool glacier photos.

If you already like Bal-Sagoth, you need this album in your CD collection. If you like your extreme metal a little experimental and left-field, or you love Vikings and fantasy and Conan-type stuff, you should definitely check this out. Bal-Sagoth are a cool band, and this is their best CD. Blodu ok Jarna!

Standout Tracks: "Black Dragons Soar", title track, "And Lo yadda yadda the Obsidian Crown".

Other related information on the site
Review: A Black Moon Broods Over Lemuria (reviewed by Sargon the Terrible)
Review: Apocryphal Tales (reviewed by Sargon the Terrible)
Review: Atlantis Ascendant (reviewed by Sargon the Terrible)
Review: Battle Magic (reviewed by Sargon the Terrible)
Review: Battle Magic (reviewed by Ulysses)
Review: The Chthonic Chronicles (reviewed by Jason Cominetto)
Review: The Chthonic Chronicles (reviewed by Sargon the Terrible)
Review: The Chthonic Chronicles (reviewed by Ulysses)
Review: The Power Cosmic (reviewed by Sargon the Terrible)
Interview with Byron (Vocals) on April 6, 2003 (Interviewed by Sargon the Terrible)
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