Yet another one-man atmospheric black metal project? Nebula Orionis offers smooth, lushly orchestrated sailing into the depths of the universe…

Release Date: June 22, 2019 | Casus Belli Musica | Bandcamp | Facebook | Spotify | Instagram

Russia’s Nebula Orionis joins the as-of-recently bandcamp-trendy style called “cosmic black metal”, consisting mainly of various synth sounds and metal guitars. While this uncanny marriage wasn’t until lately something you’d imagine to ever work, it actually does wonders – and seems to do a great job as relatively welcoming beginner’s foray into black metal. Now if you’ve heard of cosmic black metal, you must have also heard of Mesarthim, the genre’s current undisputed overlords. The obvious similarities between the two stretch from the sound and spatial imagery all the way to a high tempo of releasing new music: To Keep the Flame Burning marks Nebula Orionis’ second album of 2019 (after January’s Starthrone), and the fourth full-length since 2014.

Today’s contender chose a different path, eschewing the usual black-and-trance in favour of more orchestral and melodic kind of metal accompaniments, overall accentuating an “epic” kind of sound. Just listen to the orchestral hits and huge string section pizzicatos in the eponymous track. In the end, I might even want to take back the “black” metal label at all. Atmospheric, instrumental? That sounds better.

Of course, the orchestra is noticeably synthetic. The very first seconds of the instrumental album make it clear by conjuring a rather dated Nightwish-esque keyboard soundscape. But as the music goes on, more refined and recent sounds come creeping in, resulting in a rather timeless soundtrack to… well, anything that benefits from an epic soundtrack, really. Although set in outer space, the music keeps on flowing, which calls fast, dynamic space travel to mind rather than the cold, static emptiness of the black cosmos (maybe except the eerily sparse final “Transmission”). This feeling of constant movement is reinforced by Nebula Orionis leaning rather towards repetitive figural motifs in the accompaniment. And as everyone who has ever had to deal with a virtual orchestra, the man behind this album also came to realize brass sounds especially are a huge pain to get right.

Speaking of men behind musical projects, the one in charge of Nebula Orionis calls himself M42. Astronomy lovers immediately realize this cryptic abbreviation stands for the astronomical object catalogue entry labelled Messier 42. It is, indeed, the diffuse Orion Nebula in the middle of Orion’s sword (cosmic symbolism apparently abounds in this sector of black metal music, Mesarthim being the traditional name for Gamma Arietis, a binary star in the Aries constellation, and so on).

To Keep the Flame Burning is, in short, good enough. The arching melodies aren’t exactly beautiful, but they are nice. The imagery is kind of spatial, those diverse sounds are put together surprisingly well, the music is reasonably epic. While not exactly ground-breaking, To Keep the Flame Burning still stands as yet another testament to just how versatile the soundscape of an undisputedly metal album can be. This particular one being on the welcoming, nonviolent side: soaring, not crushing.

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