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Atlantean Kodex - The Course of Empire

"Empires rise, empires fall.
Atlantean tombs, imperial halls.
History's volumes have but one page.
Ever westward, the course of empire takes its eternal way."

My taste in metal developed very quickly. In less than a year, I went from Metallica to Cannibal Corpse. I went all in on extreme metal and never bothered with melodic forms. It wasn't until many years later that I began seriously listening to things other than thrash metal, death metal, and black metal. One band that caught my attention was Atlantean Kodex. Shortly after listening to Candlemass, I looked for similar bands and stumbled upon them. They are an epic doom metal band from Germany. They formed back in 2005 and have released three full-length albums since then. Their first two were really good, but they did not truly grip me. The Course of Empire, on the other hand, amazed me in ways I cannot adequately describe.

The production is magnificent. It is clear and powerful, a towering wall of sound that makes the music sound as epic as the sagas of ages long past. The drums are played by Mario Weiss. Simple mid-paced rhythms and slow beats serve as the foundation of his performance. These are strong on their own, but he makes the music truly vibrant by including a diverse array of elements, including militaristic rolls, folkish rhythms, galloping double bass, and many extravagent fills, the best of which can be found on the title track.

Florian Kreuzer's bass work makes the music even more richly detailed and dynamic. The vocals are handled by Markus Becker. His clean singing is not only extremely powerful, but it possesses a heartfelt sincerity that is hard to find in this cynical, nihilistic age. These vocals are made even more powerful by the inclusion of harmonies, most of which appear during the choruses. The part of his performance that truly astounded me was the first verse of "Chariots". The delivery of that one verse expresses more power and emotion than can be found on the entirety of some albums.

The rhythm guitars are played by Manuel Trummer. The lead guitars were played by Michael Koch, but he left the band partway through production, so he was replaced by Coralie Baier. Their performance is fantastic. Each chord progression is meticulously crafted and are often accompanied by brilliant melodic passages that make you feel like you're gazing into the distant past and beholding glorious ascents and tragic downfalls. They also play galloping palm-muted riffs on "Chariots", which also happen to be the heaviest riffs on the album. Tying all of this together are incredible solos. They're not as complex as those played by other bands, but they are emotional in a way few others can replicate.

The subject matter is just as compelling as the music itself. As can be ascertained by the title, this album is about the rise and fall of empires. It reminds me of an essay called "The Fate of Empires" by John Glubb. Ancient wisdom tells us that history goes in cycles, and Glubb was able to scientifically prove this by analyzing historical empires. He showed that they all go through the exact same process. First a tribe of powerful and ambitious warriors quickly conquers a large area. The most obvious examples of this are the Germanic tribes that conquered Western Rome and the warriors of the Rashidun that conquered the Middle East. This new realm then organizes itself into a coherent entity, thus allowing them to conquer even more territory. These conquests then lead to material prosperity. This affluence leads to decadence, and this decadence leads to self-destruction.

All empires go through this cycle, and the Modern West is no exception. Modern man believes that progressive liberal democracy is the pinnacle of human development, but it is actually a civilization in decay. The band describes all of this poetically in the title track. People cut themselves off from tradition and the transcendent under the delusion that they will achieve liberation, but they instead stumble blindly into a pit of chaos and confusion. They are consumed by sin. The pursuit of material pleasure is the only thing that matters to them. They deconstruct any notion of the noble, true, and holy. Once they abolish everything that made them great, their society becomes like a house with no foundation. They think it will stand in perpetuity, but are then shocked when it collapses in short order. This fate has befallen every empire in history, and it will happen to us. But do not despair, for new life always arises from the ashes of the old.

"Yet from the ruins a flower shall spring,
The laurel wreath of future kings.
Titans march onward in perpetual strife,
New kingdoms arise in their wake."

The Course of Empire is, without a doubt, one of the greatest metal albums ever made. The instrumental work is fantastic, the vocals are amazing, and the music as a whole possesses a magnificent spirit that speaks of glories past and glories to come. I am confident when I say that this is one of those rare albums that will still hold up and be fondly remembered decades from now. As long as incredible works like this continue to be made, the spirit of metal will live on.