Atlantean Kodex – The White Goddess
The White Goddess by Atlantean Kodex is one of those albums that comes around every so often which, thanks to label affiliation, press buzz or a combination of the two, reaches a wide audience of people who ordinarily wouldn't listen to anything like it. Atlantean Kodex play German power metal, full stop. They're also likely to find their way onto the year-end lists of plenty of people who can't name two albums by Blind Guardian or Gamma Ray. (Likewise, the record will probably be ignored by many of the hordes of people who purchase Nightwish CDs.)
This broad reach isn't Atlantean Kodex's fault; nor is it the fault of 20 Buck Spin, their Stateside label. (Ván Records is handling the release in Europe.) In truth, it's not even a problem. But the Internet has bred an increasingly contentious relationship between old-school heshers (who would have sought this album out and eaten it up regardless of its presence on the cool blogs) and younger fans with more extreme tastes. That relationship turns albums that should unite metalheads into battlefields, which, true to the hyperbole tossed around in such discussions, must make The White Goddess Gettysburg. In reality, Atlantean Kodex have just made an interesting record that is worth listening to, but also one that isn't quite as good as its most ardent defenders would have you believe.
The first thing that leaps out about The White Goddess is the length of its songs. Interludes aside, its tracks weigh in at 10:55, 11:10, 7:44, 9:55 and 11:22, without much inflation from orchestral intros or ambient noodling. These are just long fucking songs — not because they comprise lots of parts, but because Markus Becker has a lot to sing about and Michael Koch and Manuel Trummer want to play a lot of guitar solos. That isn't to say there's fat which the band should've trimmed, as their songwriting instincts are impeccable. For those who don't listen to a lot of music with high, clean male vocals, though, Becker's incredibly earnest delivery of his fantasy-novel lyrics can grate when heard for over an hour.
Luckily, Becker's earnestness is consistent with the entire Atlantean Kodex experience. The White Goddess doesn't scan as cheese because it refuses to consider itself with anything less than total seriousness. This approach is most impressive on "Twelve Stars and an Azure Gown (An Anthem For Europe)," which recounts military exploits from Aeneas to Winston Churchill, all watched over by an unnamed war goddess on a white bull. Without the band fully buying in, the center wouldn't hold, but thanks to the insistent tempo, Koch and Trummer's elegantly constructed guitar parts, and Becker's unique voice, the result is a mighty, melodic fusion of While Heaven Wept and Savatage. Other songs suffer from a lack of true hooks, a fatal shortcoming when every song lives and dies by its vocalist. (I couldn't tell you what "Enthroned in Clouds and Fire (The Great Cleansing)" sounds like after a half dozen listens.) Still, the majority of the album works, and it's at any rate a huge step up from the band's fairly nondescript debut, The Golden Bough.
The length of the songs, the grandeur of the lyrics, and the triumphal tone of the guitars have resulted in a lot of listeners trying to sneak around the whole power metal thing by calling The White Goddess "epic heavy metal." I suppose that's apt, even if the last thing we need is one more officially agreed upon metal subgenre. I still can't help but read the use of that euphemism as shame. Power metal is as uncool a genre as there is, so there's an instinct to hide from it when it does something awesome. Maybe simply calling Atlantean Kodex what they are — an excellent German power metal band — will start to turn the tides, and we won't have to act so shocked the next time an album like this comes along.
The White Goddess is out now; buy it from 20 Buck Spin here. Stream the whole album below.