War in Pieces: “Bellum I,” the First Half of Aquilus’ Symphonic Metal Masterwork (Early Stream + Interview)
All facts taken from a recorded video call with Horace "Waldorf" Rosenqvist.
In the ten years since he released the mammoth Griseus, a triumph in symphonic metal, Melbourne's Horace "Waldorf" Rosenqvist, otherwise known as Aquilus, has kept quite busy, though it didn't look like much was happening from an outside perspective. The enigmatic composer, whose earliest material accidentally made its way online before he initially released Arbor in 2007, has been quietly putting everlasting finishing touches on what is now a short series of albums.
"After Griseus was released, I remixed Arbor and prepared all the live material, and then it was around the end of 2013 or 2014 when I started recording the next one," Rosenqvist says in a hushed voice after a great silence, one of many which would occur during this particular interview. "It was only meant to be 60 minutes long because I didn't want it to be 80 minutes like Griseus, but it kept sort of growing and there was more and more stuff I put on it."
In a trial-and-error approach which exhausts all options and instrument combinations before moving on, sometimes resulting in fully-orchestrated draft iterations reaching double-digits before moving on, Rosenqvist, in an effort to create a one-hour album, ended up with a six-hour album. Even after countless hours on the cutting room floor, Aquilus' next album was doomed to the same, lengthy "fate" of its older sibling.
"One of the only complaints received about Griseus was that it was too long," he reminisces, "but what's there to complain about? There's more music!"
Yet, the fabled Bellum, whose nameless presence was a whisper across social media and forums alike in the years after Griseus' release, would never reach Rosenqvist's goal, but there was another option. With his long-awaited album split into equal halves, Bellum I and II were born, with its first half (which is just a hair over an hour long-good job, Horace!) streaming ahead of its Friday Blood Music release below.
Though he makes what could be considered "orchestral metal," Rosenqvist feels apart from that entire movement, citing issues with the music's quality. "I think that's where people go wrong," he says, "they want to make [orchestral and symphonic metal] sound like a Hollywood movie and it comes out cliche and boring." Boring enough to where he rarely listens to the style anymore, instead drawing inspiration from actual Romantic and Classical music, citing Chopin and Rachmaninoff as influences on his densely composed style.
"A lot of symphonic metal is just a band with some keyboards or violins or something and it's called symphonic metal, but it doesn't have the great quality of classical stuff to it," he says. "It's basic, empty. It doesn't have any beauty or complexity to me. You rarely hear anything beautiful and complex. It's often simple and cliche."
"I was going to master both [Bellum I and Bellum II] at the same time," he says, hinting at the future second half, "but because it ended up being so long, I had to set one aside. I did all the recording and everything that needed to be done except the mixing since I wanted them to be matching. All that needed to be done was the mixing and then it was alright. I could focus on one and then the other. I've almost finished mixing [Bellum II] and it has matching sounds like one big album instead of two parts."
Of Bellum I itself, Rosenqvist has crafted something complex and bombastic. Though the term "symphonic metal" often brings about images of Dani Filth prancing onstage (though the new Cradle of Filth album is quite good), Aquilus is, as Rosenqvist explained above, separate from the carnival atmospheres and basic orchestration found within the greater symphonic and orchestral metal world. It does seem a bit over the top to designate something as "on its own," and yet Aquilus' mastery of orchestration, composition, and technical musicianship (on both Rosenqvist's behalf as well as the small collection of studio guests he hired) shows a vast maturity which goes beyond a world often influenced by early video game music and cursory forays into classical music.
Trying to put Bellum I into a specific genre bucket is difficult (note how I simply call it "symphonic metal" above). Encyclopaedia Metallum attempts to rectify this by calling the project "Neoclassical Black/Folk Metal," which isn't exactly right, per se, but they fought the genre wars valiantly. Though black and folk metals play an important part in this album's creation, one must also take symphonic metal into consideration… and progressive death metal. There is a lot of progressive death metal to be found in Bellum I, specifically of the "Opeth metal" variety I've discussed in the past, but this is that style taken to its furthest extreme… but it isn't exclusively that. It isn't exclusively anything other than, well, orchestral. Or "symphonic" as the genre overlords have declared.
The many hours put into the music definitely displays itself, too. Rosenqvist plays with many textures throughout Bellum I's course, and nothing seems out of place. No dynamic can be really questioned-he's perfected the "symphonic metal" formula. Of course, this will be a difficult listen for those who aren't expecting something this dense, and dense music can be, in so many words, fatiguing. Across its hour's length, Bellum I is an onslaught of instruments and VSTs, and emerging at the other end a victor is exhausting, but in a truly rewarding way.
"I make what I think is best," Rosenqvist says, grinning before taking a drag from his cigarette and enjoying the silence.
Bellum I releases tomorrow on Blood Music.