There's a lot of hype surrounding Atlantean Kodex's sophomore album, The White Goddess, right now. That's not news in and of itself; in any given year there are multiple albums that get singled out by the metal writing community for one reason or another. But the excitement over this album in particular is surprising.
In order to understand why the fervor over this album is so surprising, keep in mind that Atlantean Kodex is a German power metal band. In the United States, power metal is basically the Rodney Dangerfield of heavy metal subgenres: it gets no respect from us Yankees. The last time one of these bands broke into the larger metal consciousness was when Dragonforce had "Through the Fire and the Flames" featured in Guitar Hero 3.
Regardless of your opinion of power metal, it would be hard for anyone to make an intellectually honest argument that The White Goddess isn't a well crafted album. The singer, Markus Becker, has a mean set of vocal chords, there are plenty of soaring guitar parts, and the overall production sounds clean and appropriately grandiose. This is a giant leap forward for Atlantean Kodex after the band's first album, The Golden Bough, which is a fairly entertaining but mediocre debut. Here the band sound like a mash-up of Manowar, Iron Maiden, and Blind Guardian, but still manage to sound fresh.
The album opens with a brief instrumental track that literally trumpets the beginning of The White Goddess before the band launches into "Sol Invictus", a big, exciting song that sets the bar so high that the rest of the album is never able to meet it again. That's not to say the other songs are bad, but "Sol Invictus" is the kind of galloping, fast paced anthem that gets your heart racing immediately. If Atlantean Kodex could have sustained this level of energy throughout the entire album, the White Goddess would easily be a contender for 2013's best album. But the band seems more interested in crafting a cohesive narrative instead of a collection of catchy songs.
Because Atlantean Kodex focus on story more than writing memorable hooks, the tone of the music frequently shifts to match the lyrics, and, since the songs on The White Goddess are all over seven minutes long, it's easy to lose track of where you are in the album. "Twelve Stars and an Azure Gown," in particular, has a lot going on. It begins and ends with Winston Churchill soundbites, but, in between, the song shifts repeatedly from folk metal to traditional metal to Blind Guardian-esque power metal.
The final two songs on The White Goddess, "Enthroned in Clouds and Fire" and "White Goddess Unveiled," are both similar musically to the prior three songs on the album. There isn't a lot of distinction between tracks, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The band is telling a story, so the music can almost take a back seat to the lyrical content. That's generally not the case as there are still plenty of chugging riffs and guitar solos to go around, but it's easy to tune out the music and focus on what's happening lyrically. Just like most power metal bands, Atlantean Kodex write songs steeped in fantasy. But there's also some ancient European mythology and antediluvian religious elements in the mix that sets these songs apart from the Dungeons & Dragons inspired lyrical content typical to this style of music.
Although The White Goddess is a great album, one of 2013's best in fact, it's definitely not perfect. The record's main problem is its relative impenetrability. The album is made up of 5 really long songs (the shortest being 7 minutes and 44 seconds) and 3 brief musical interludes that don't serve much of a purpose. It's still possible to enjoy the individual songs on their own merits, but The White Goddess works much better when experienced as a whole. Fans looking for brief, sing-along anthems in the vein of what Sabaton creates may be disappointed.
It's tempting to call Atlantean Kodex one of "The Next Big Things", but odds are good that The White Goddess is going to languish in obscurity regardless of how much critical buzz the album generates. It's definitely going to end up on a lot of year end Best Of lists, but it probably won't make it into many iTunes libraries. It's a shame, too; from start to finish, The White Goddess is a distillation of everything good about power metal with very little of the bad. It's not even necessary to appreciate power metal to like this album… there's plenty for metal fans of all tastes to enjoy here.