CD, Ant-Zen, 2010
Heliogabal, also known as Elagabalus or Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, was Roman emperor from 218 to 222 AD, a half-Syrian youth who served as a priest of the god El-Gabal in his home town of Emesa. Taking imperial power at the age of fourteen, Heliogabal was notorious for his disregard for Roman traditions and sexual taboos, replacing the Roman head god Jupiter with the lesser Deus Sol Invictus. The religious rites he promoted together with the promiscuous lifestyle he led resulted in his assassination by the Praetorian Guard only four years into his reign; m2‘s latest work is a tribute to this young man’s disastrous rule and the exciting concept of a time where man had the potential of being a god.
Opening with the characteristic flourish of a dramatic tone followed by silence, “The Priests” sets the scene for an intriguing tale, similar in atmosphere and ancient historical feeling as the previous m2 album, “Nyx”. But soon the stark minimalism of that album is replaced with a style reminiscent of earlier m2 works, with ambient electronica bass lines and melodies put to effective use together with subtle yet imposing rhythms. After the exotically occult rites of the opening, “Winds And Ruins” is an even more ominous affair, a desolate piece of pure dark ambient haunted by the sinister voices of forgotten deities and their followers. “Heliogabal I” comes next, the most abrupt and decisive track on the album, possibly a soundtrack for the grand entrance of the great man himself, ready to lead his followers in another dark ritual.
The memory of the Praetorian Guard is invoked in “Relics Of The Undefeated Guard”, full of sudden outbursts of metallic slashing and frightening voices. “The Sacred Shrine” brings in some oppressive drumming and disturbing watery sounds, while “Reign” is a curiously electronic sounding moment, ever so slightly at odds with the classical imagery of the whole album. “Deus Sol Invictus” goes further in the electronica direction, but with a dramatic analogue synth tune paying suitable homage to Heliogabal’s preferred god. “Whores, Smoke & Shadows” features a dense drone and a hazy ambience, conjuring up images of perverse pleasures in the name of the gods, and then “Square-Dimensional Space” provides a lighter sensation, but with no lack of suspense and fear. Finally, “Heliogabal II” is a powerful closing track, concluding the themes explored in the album perfectly with some of the tensest and most threatening sounds so far, possibly an aural depiction of the emperor’s final moments.
Overall then this is one of the finest dark ambient albums to come out this year and a return to form for m2 after the slightly uneventful “Nyx”, providing a good mix between the more rhythmic older albums such as “Aswad” and the minimalism of “The Frozen Spark”, creating an outstanding soundtrack to one of the sadly under-explored tales of ancient history.
— Nathan Clemence