Steve Hughes is perhaps most known nowadays as a cutthroat comedian who has lit up stages across continents.
He of course got his start as drummer in such seminal Sydney-based acts as Slaughter Lord, Mortal Sin, and Nazxul. Hughes moved to Ireland in 1999 to further his comedy goals, which led to a stint playing live with Celtic black metal mavens Primordial. It was this activity that relit his musical flame and inspired the birth of Eternum. Eternum was the name of the last track from Nazxul’s classic Totem, but will this new venture have anything in common with that sound?
Album opener Beyond What You See has a nearly understated beginning before unveiling itself as the riffs and drumming kick in. The atmosphere is one of blackened heavy metal, ably beset by the stellar drumming and Hughes’s venomous vocals. It’s a menacing, mid-paced track that works really well as a statement of Eternum’s intent.
High on Fire begins with a touch more immediacy. Hughes’s vocals have a bit more power behind them too, diverging towards straight black metal at times. This track really fits the blackened heavy metal ethos as it’s nearly equally divided in terms of influence. Additionally, there aren’t necessarily hints here of what Hughes was a part of with the likes of Slaughter Lord and Mortal Sin but there’s an innate sense of those times imbued in the vocal lines and skilful lead passages.
Jesus Serpent Blood features a deceptively eerie ambient introduction before erupting into a pounding rhythm and vicious utterance from Hughes. It feels like that the black metal influence present in High on Fire has been amped up here. Hughes’s vocals are sinister yet understandable and in many ways they drive this track into becoming something that’s at once anthemic and oppressive. A brief spoken passage precedes a lead guitar break. Hughes’ vocals then follow a crunchy riff into which the rhythm tracks collapse and resume their machine-like heaviness.
In Lies We Trust begins with a spoken word piece amid what sounds like backwards notes before some immediate rhythms emerge from beneath the ambience. In Lies We Trust is a short piece that mainly focuses on creating an unsettling atmosphere to complement Hughes’ spoken delivery. It works well as a deft change of pace in the midst of the album.
Hail the Gods is a solid counterpoint to the preceding track, offering an intense, heavy atmosphere from the outset. The track is crushing and Hughes’ vocals are dripping with anger and venom. Hail the Gods, lyrically, seems to pay tribute to many of Hughes’s influences and contemporaries from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s. It’s a tribute dripping with sincerity, in a way that only a musician that lived those times could perhaps offer. It’s the foremost track on Alone but for the Breath of Beasts to be propelled by that dirty, raw classic heavy metal influence. It also features Hughes engaging in call and response sections where he really gets to show off and demonstrate the differing vocal styles employed on the album.
Album closer Inverted Reason is the longest track on offer, clocking in at just over eleven minutes. This is perhaps the most baleful track on the album as Hughes has really used its running time to stretch it out; offering an intro of epic yet sinister proportions before which he intones some multifaceted, commanding vocals belying the direction of humanity. It feels like a journey through all that has come before it, and that’s not to say it feels derivative of prior tracks; it absolutely doesn’t. It’s a measured piece that sees all that is before it and takes no prisoners. Hughes has described the track as dealing with the sense of loss that we deal with as well as the corruption that is laid before us on many levels. Hughes’s vocals here at once condemn the fate of the world yet endeavour to lead us to realise that it is we who are in control of ourselves. It’s a song that takes a few listens to really unveil itself to the listener, but once it’s in your head it’ll be there for days.
With Alone but for the Breath of Beasts Steve Hughes, as Eternum, has crafted something utterly memorable. Without necessarily being a call back to or owing influence to Slaughter Lord, Mortal Sin, or Nazxul, Hughes has crafted something that fits in this era as well as it would those halcyon days of the 1980s/1990s scenes. It’s no throwback, however, it’s just a mean, angry, finely crafted piece of blackened heavy metal that’ll leave you thinking and questioning a few things.
Hughes has stated that music remained his first love even throughout his pursuit and conquering of the world’s comedy stages. Hats off to him, because (ably aided by production and guest guitar solos from Nazxul alumni Lachlan Mitchell and Pete Peric respectively) he’s created an album that shows that the musical fire within him as never wavered.
- Beyond What You See
- High on Fire
- Jesus Serpent Blood
- In Lies We Trust
- Hail to the Gods
- Inverted Reason