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Akercocke - Antichrist Review

by Mark Hensch

Much like the fine-wine they no doubt often partake in, Akercocke seems to become increasingly pleasing with age. Akercocke formed in 1997, and since that time the London, England natives have made a delicate yet marvelous career out of balancing ultra-violent brutality with elegant, high-brow theatrics and graceful, sweeping grandeur. The band has often drawn fire for their openly satanic lyrics and their erotic music videos, but the fact remains that at the end of the day Akercocke are jaw-droppingly beautiful musicians. Antichrist is as smooth as velvet and every bit as blood-dark; the disc seamlessly blends somber melodies and ripping blasts of maze-like death metal arrangements in a way few bands before them have been able to. It all makes for an eclectic journey, like a trip through ancient Roman libraries in the morning capped off by a Gladiator fight in the Coliseum at night.

"Black Messiah" is the sort of "nudge-nudge, wink-wink" tomfoolery Akercocke has always had lurking in them. The entire song (if it can be called that) is a garbled mess of frightening noises and fuzzy beeps. Unnerving and abrasive, it leaves listeners perfectly vulnerable to "Summoning the Antichrist." "Antichrist" is a roaring death metal anthem, the likes of which coils and strikes with all the lithe precision of a viper. As intent as it is on blasting listeners into tiny, quivering pieces, it still manages to sneak in some rustic sing-alongs and fiery leads in there all before collapsing into a frenzied explosion of riffs and moaning, esoteric chants. Out of this titanic piece comes "Axiom," a song that will no doubt bring Akercocke lasting mainstream acclaim. A winding, melancholy clean progression weaves its way through darkness, surrounded by blasting drums and the bittersweet crooning of exquisite frontman Jason Mendonca. His voice climbs to ever more soaring heights, and just before it breaks, mammoth riffs lead the death metal charge which soon ensures. Complex, mathematical chords dance in-and-out of the assault, and things stop on a dime again-and-again. An arena-rock solo backed by wicked bass thumps appears courtesy of guitarist Matty Wilcock, and the song soon melts into soothing electronica beats. "The Promise" is a seductive, doomy tome, its dank guitars rising like dust around dismal wails and Middle-Eastern sounding arrangements. "My Apterous Angel" keeps said Middle-Eastern tinges alive, swaying like a lust-driven belly dancer. Sinister and brooding, the song's slowly building killing-spree emerges as muscular, tight, and damn-fast, a blitzkrieg of fire and brimstone. The complexity is magnificent, and all of it never feels forced or pretentious.

It is with the utmost ambition (and let me emphasize this rather than pretentiousness) that Akercocke must have to attempt a song like "Distant Fires Reflect the Eyes of Satan." A sweeping orchestra morphs into a tribal pagan orgy, a wonderfully joyous tribute to the archaic and the immeasurably old. "Man without Faith or Trust," meanwhile, is more traditional, its blistering tremolo-melodies and meaty riffs fusing black and death metal into one unholy maelstrom of sound. The song is slamming and rabid one moment, soft and gloomy the next, and it perhaps best capture's Akercocke's strange duality all at once. I might be biased as this is my favorite cut from the album, but "Man Without Faith or Trust" never lets go of one's jugular, it's stabbing solos and straightforward blasting never giving a single moment's respite. "The Dark Inside" is a chest-rattling death metal hymn which soon sheds these more brutal facets and slides effortlessly into breathless, ethereal chords. As if this by itself wasn't unusual enough, Akercocke further defies convention by shifting into shiny electronica beats as much at home in a night-club as they are an underground metal club. "Footsteps Resound in an Empty Chapel" has been garnering all sorts of praise, and with good reason. Unrelenting with a flurry of inhuman tremolo-melodies, this bile-soaked behemoth unleashes absolute destruction on all in its path. Everything about it is surreal, complex, and defiant. Closing Antichrist is the sublime "Epode," an eerie ballad that has nothing but Mendoca's dark, masterful voice and shimmering guitar notes backed by the elegance of an orchestra. It summarizes everything, like the crossing of a letter t; Akercocke is at the top of their game with this one and can do whatever the Hell they want.

Masterful, stoic, intellectual, and grand, Antichrist is perhaps most ironic in how it conveys its message of individualism. There is something for everyone here; complexity abounds for the scholar, sensuality laces every song, and through it all is a primal urge for blood-letting only true death metal can combine. It is this trinity of mind, body, and spirit which best benefits from Akercocke, a band increasingly in touch with their own royal majesty. Hail to the kings; this is a sure contender for album of the year.

Akercocke's Antichrist
1. Black Messiah
2. Summon the Antichrist
3. Axiom
4. The Promise
5. My Apterous Angel
6. Distant Fires Reflect the Eyes of Satan
7. Man Without Faith or Trust
8. The Dark Inside
9. Footsteps Resound in an Empty Chapel
10. Epode

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Akercocke - Antichrist

Rating:10 out of 10

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