In my previous review of Darkenhöld's - A Passage to the Towers I mentioned that Aldebaran, although creating a series of very good albums, had never reached the focal point of excellence; getting back to Artefact's magnus opus, Ruins, I am forced happily to make a kind of renounciation. For me, "Ruins" is the best album in the Emperor/Dissection school of melodic/progressive/epic black metal, since "Storm of the Light's Bane" and "Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk". Don't take this as an absolute statement though, as I can't say I have heard that many albums in that particular style. In fact, it remains that this album got minimum attention until now, except perhaps some positive reviews and a spot that was given to the band at that time in Wacken.
I believe Artefact did a "mistake" here that made sure of the band's relative obscurity into the black metal circles. They got too progressive and complex for the ears of a black metal listener. Complexity into a Deathspell Omega record for instance is mostly in the fields of atonalism where no real sense of harmony exists, but an alternation of monochromatic, dissonant chords, which could be random in relation to one another and still create a similar kind of effect. Artefact however, are purely harmonic; harmony is like a straight line, if you get lost in the way there is no getting back. They are also quite technical on the rhythmical department and of course, like any black metal band that respects itself, speedy and rushing. In addition, there is not really a slow or simple song in the album, with the exception of some moments of brief rest here and there. The end result is a record that sounds overwhelming and mind-numbing from 3-4 songs and on. Professional producers always make sure to put slower, more atmospheric songs in an album of dense music, so as to make it be heard from beginning to end, to constitute a bigger, sum-is-greater-that-the-parts, experience, as did the classics with their symphonies, by the way (and to think how dismayed they would be by seeing modern audiences still last no more than a couple of minutes).
With "Ruins" there is also another defining characteristic; the first song of the album is obviously the better. The band seems to suggests us this itself, as there is a 7 minute piano rendition of it as the closing track, and the intro even plays with its basic themes in order to lead into it. Indeed, "Gargoyles Unleashed" is definitely the catchier song this band has ever produced. It leaves one breathless with its merciless exposition of epic and rough melodicism, running wild like, indeed, a storm of 1-tone pissed off flying creatures. It is the "Night's Blood" of the band, a song that will hopefully remain classic as an example of excellent black metal in the ages to come. While in Dissection's opus, however, follows "Unhallowed", a much simplier and melodic black metal song (and then even, the catchy hit, Where Angels Lie) here we have an even more complex, multifarious song, Medieval Ancestry, and it just goes on an on like that. I admit than in previous listenings I usually stopped after some songs, kind of frustrated, to relisten to "Gargoyles Unleashing" and finish the session, a probably criminal mistake. But this shows that albums like these should not be listened as a whole, but as 2-3 songs at a time, until one feels familiarized enough with the content to follow it all in one shot.
And indeed, with Ruins, this approach absolutely pays off. Medieval Ancestry sounds like an exploration into the mysterious and complex threads of history, alternating between anxious struggle and glorious discovery, between technical, thrashy riffs and melodically advanced black metal. It is too an absolutely fantastic song and a paragon for progressive black metal. After the vocal, monastery-sounding interlude of "Catharian Ruins" the onslaught continues with the Emperor-ian "Reverence" where the guitar fury begins from galloping techno-thrash to reach an emotional crescendo with " " shouting dramatically over an almost orchestral sounding arrangement. What is really formidable about this record is that even when it falls back into a relative melodic calmness such as "In the Fountain of the Enchantress", it does not allow its melodies to recieve a non-adventurous evolution. "Fountain" ends in a satisfied manner, in a major mode that might even remind some of fellow dreamers Alcest. "My Inner Sanctum" almost carries from there, indulging into romantic, twin evolving melodies. Synths join with guitar leads to portray audially sacral places of beauty amidst constant dynamic movement, like a forest of stubborn, ancient trees throughtout the violent changing of the seasons. An excellent instrumental that makes me think that Artefact could make a successful living creating music for rpg's if they wished. "Curse of the Wizard" totally crosses the line of accepted song titles and is probably the weaker song of the album, so off we go to "Stellar Winds" which is another highlight with its almost hollywood-sounding melodies (I think of John Williams when I say that, don't frown please) and progressive playfullness. "Finale" (yes, titles isn't exactly their strongest point) unfortunately doesn't impress much as it seems like a filler made out of rejected riffs. With an album of such density, 60 minutes is probably unnecessary and Artifact would do better if they had the courage to leave out one or two of the weakest songs. Of course, nowadays we can just leave them out the playlist, but in truth, less songs always means more attention to the better ones. Despite what it says, the album actually closes with the piano cover of Gargoyles Unleashing, called Gargoyles Rest (let's not mention titles again). It's pretty interesting that it transforms the song into a solist piece, but I would not listen to it many times. The jazz closing is cool though (a bit wtf, of course).
To be honest, Ruins obviously has its imperfections, and still after my re-assessment of its value, it seems slightly inconsistent. Especially the second half of the album (which is weaker) looks like it could be trimmed a little without serious repercutions. It total though, it is a great achievement that could be a point of reference for many musicians trying their way into the difficult and thorny pathways of ambitious, progressive black metal. I should admit though that I feel kind of sorry for these guys that the rest of the world doesn't think so. Especially when I know how difficult for one is to transcend or repeat his magnum opus (as they obviously haven't stopped making music) and that this opus is not even considered such by the majority of outward reality. In any way, I seriously hope that Artefact is one day reunited and give it another shot, or that Aldebaran will be able to reach the same amount of excellence with Darkenhöld.