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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Akercocke

Choronzon

Review by Mike Korn

They say the Devil has the best music, but judging by the sartorial sense of Britain's Akercocke, he also has a pretty good wardrobe. Instead of opting for the usual spiked leather and chains, these fellows favor smartly tailored three-piece suits while engaging in their blasphemy. However, do not judge a metalhead by the cover, because Akercocke has come up with a simply brilliant and even genre-defining album in "Choronzon".

I am in awe of this record. It accomplishes the rarest of feats in these cautious times and manages to be an actual musical journey. The band delves through a staggering variety of musical atmospheres and styles here, giving the listener the feel of actually travelling through a decadent landscape. Yet despite the diversity here, there is absolutely no doubt that Akercocke is one of the most extreme bands on the planet. They can hit blasting death metal complete with super-guttural Suffocation-style vocals as well as blazing black metal purity reminiscent of the greats like Burzum and early Emperor. But they are also a highly progressive band, changing tempos with ease and challenging the limits of their instruments. There are many passages of Gothic and symphonic majesty on "Choronzon", along with unorthodox song structures. Helping immensely is the rich production of Neil Kernon, who seems to be doing every metal album worth a damn these days, and the astonishing vocals of Jason Mendonca, who ranges from those pig-like death grunts to throat-ripping high pitched rasps to melodramatic, almost operatic clean vocals and eerie whispers.

There is also a definite feeling of evil surrounding Akercocke's music...something which many of the best black metal bands lack today. I didn't get a lyric sheet, but I'm guessing these naughty gentlemen probably don't resort to typical blood-and-guts Satanism to make their points. They seem to look upon the Evil One as a misunderstood bringer of enlightenment. Well, I could ramble on much more about "Choronzon"...indeed, hidden depths are still making themselves known to me...but let me simply say that these well-dressed Englishmen have surpassed anything that Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir or even mighty Emperor have done. It is a completely essential purchase for lovers of extreme, challenging music.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2003 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Praise the Name of Satan
There's no doubting where the band is coming from with a title like that. It begins with a lengthy excerpt from a movie where a young girl becomes possessed by the spirit of Choronzon, which leads into a fast black metal riff complete with ripping vocals. This track is actually fairly heavy on melody, with a lot of ringing "gothic" type guitar. But, as is typical for Akercocke, you get a little bit of everything, including death metal with grunting vocals. It's amazing how well it all fits together and builds to a mighty climax. The speed and sheer EVIL of this tune will blow you away!
Prince of the North
The instrumental takes us to the mysterious East, as blaring horns announce a purely Arabian melody complete with authentic instruments. This is a wonderful mood piece that doesn't have the slightest trace of death metal or even rock music.
Leviathan
Doomy, foreboding chords introduce the most avant-garde of the record's heavier tunes. The vocals for the most part are of the clean, almost operatic variety and there's a heavy Cure/Nephilim tone to the guitars. There's an off the wall, jerky quality to some of the riffs that's pretty progressive and David Gray's drumming is brilliant in handling all the changes. The tune gradually becomes more extreme and lets some blast beats in, but overall the tune is not as completely raging as some of the other tracks. Really, it is just a superb example of progressive extreme metal.
Enraptured By Evil
Pure blasting death metal with super guttural vocals kicks off this flesh-ripping assault. Man, this band just sounds plain NASTY. Many bands claim this attribute but Akercocke personify it. Even in the midst of the hellish onslaught, there are dashes of melody mixed in with the blast.
Choronzon
The exotic strains of the sitar hum and vibrate here, with ambient drones of heavy guitar and synth over it. Another mood-setting instrumental, this leads brilliantly into "Valley of the Crucified".
Valley of the Crucified
Listening to this song is like watching a movie or, better yet, travelling back in time to the ancient past. The beginning is mournful and melodic with sad clean vocals lamenting a doleful tale. This shows how Akercocke can integrate lush synthesizers into their sound without making it wimpy. Check out the strong catchy riff that comes in about a third of the way through, complete with screeching black metal screams. It is really majestic sounding and gradually builds in melodic intensity until hitting the gas. There's a superfast bit that's so much like the classic black metal of the nineties that you won't believe it. This is one of the best black metal songs of all time!
Bathykolpian Avatar
Very morbid and very fast, this is one of the most destructive tracks on the disk. The vocals switch from a gothic moaning to pure guttural insanity to black metal rasping. I'm just amazed at how well the band mixes several styles into a completely coherent whole on this track. "There can be no heaven without hell/there can be no truth without pain".
Upon Coriacious Wings
This is a brief ambient noise piece featuring some creepy sound effects, including a screeching guitar effect that just about knocked me off my chair.
Scapegoat
This track attacks with no mercy and is the equivalent of getting hit between the eyes with a 2 x 4. Remorseless and brutal, this is evil death metal at its sinister best! Watch out for the cool thrash riff with clean shouted vocals which appears at the end!
Son of the Morning
I really like the way this begins with a simple synthesizer tone while melodic vocals implore "Bear Witness to My Testimony/The things I have done...unforgiveable". The track gradually builds in an electro-Gothic fashion until erupting with some of the HUGEST, most majestic speed riffs I have ever heard! It's simply superb! Then it morphs once again into vicious, Suffocation-style death metal. It is another incredible epic but by this time, the listener should be getting used to it!
Becoming the Adversary
Akercocke show zero mercy to the listener here, as this is more skull-splitting, super morbid metal combining the best aspects of death and black. The speed and precision of their riffing is breath-taking and the track amazes with how it injects symphonic melody into a completely brutal framework. It has excellent guitar soloing, as well. It slows down significantly in the last third and adopts a kind of jerky, avant-garde approach that I thought went on just a wee bit too long.
Goddess Flesh
A nice way to cool the record down after the unprecedented brutality that proceeded it, this is a purely symphonic piece with a baroque feel. The clean vocals are dreamy and inviting, but yet the track has that certain decadent feel to it. This cut, along with the moody instrumentals here, show that Akercocke has an almost unparalleled sense of songwriting.
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