Ontborg – Following the Steps of Damnation (Black Lion Records)Wednesday, 8th March 2023
As an unabashed melodic death metal lover, these ears are always open for the latest band to give the famed sound a spin. The last few years have had a large number of newer bands releasing quality albums – Iotunn, Moonshade, Arctora, Carrion Vael, Livløs, to name a few – and with newcomers Majesties smashing down the door this year (cheap plug – our review here), there’s a lot to consume for lovers of the genre. Coming in under the radar, Italian quartet Ontborg was stumbled upon a little behind schedule. Better late than never, as the old saying goes.
Being their sophomore album, with debut Within the Depths of Oblivion releasing in 2019, Following the Steps of Damnation showcases a band that has grown a little in the 4 years between full-lengths. The first album had a rawness that added charm, yet was definitely on the drearier side, ala Insomium or Noumena, but not as slick or polished. Ontborg certainly aren’t reinventing the musical wheel, but are definitely proficient at crafting it. Their latest effort continues that approach, with additional refinement and a notch higher in the catchiness department.
Having always been an absolute sucker for guitar harmonies, Ontborg doesn’t disappoint. Straight away with “Steps of Damnation,” the listener is swept along by weeping harmonies paired with the beloved HM-2 crunch. Vocalist/guitarist Lukas Flarer provides the distorted screams, while pairing nicely for gobs of twin guitar flare alongside Florian Reiner. “Purgatory” – and to an extent, “Underneath” – are a little on the blackened side with the riffs, reminiscent of classic Eucharist in spirit. Tracks like “Echoes of Time” and “Nightfall” mix the melancholic with a taste of Gates of Ishtar, with the latter containing a particularly tasty lead that dials the harmonics up to the max.
Ontborg channels a pinch of their inner Be’Lakor-like flair with the near 9 minute “To the North.” This entry begins with an acoustic intro that sets up what is ultimately a measured affair, headlined by a melancholic guitar lead that is tough to forget. The pace quickens with “I Am the Night,” being one of the more upbeat and flowing songs on the album, before a near melodic doom pace beckons with “Ending Path.” One can’t help but think of Vinterland when hearing “Old Mother Frost,” while “The Tower” not so subtly boils over with downtrodden and doom-inspired guitar work.
In many ways, Ontborg aren’t blazing new trails or creating anything particularly revolutionary. What they have done is create highly satisfying melodic death metal that pays homage to many classic variations that this style has undergone throughout the years, while maintaining a chilly melancholic undertone. Following the Steps of Damnation maintains its own aura full of notable moments, aiding the album’s relistenability. Enjoyers of melodeath will undoubtedly find something to like here that very well has the potential to be a worthy earworm.