Thursday, 24 November 2011

Retrospective: Akercocke - Chronzon

I'm not entirely sure why it took me so long to fully appreciate the mastery of Akercocke.  Years ago I picked up the Goat of Mendes album and I loved it - yet, for some inexplicable reason I drifted away from the band.  That's not to say that I forgot about Goat... however:  Bored by the gigabytes of new and old downloads and returning to my CD collection in search for something inspirational, I'd come back to it every so often and, in the last six months or so, with increasing frequency.

Sooner or later though, even the best material wears a little thin and you're compelled to seek out more.  In an attempt to rekindle my old love of black metal, I ventured forth to the CD shelves and found most of what was on offer ultimately uninspiring.  What can I say - I was searching for that particular brand of gentlemanly satanic brutality that only Akercocke could satiate.

Suffice to say their back-catalogue was procured forthwith and while each disc is fantastic in it's own rite right, Chronzon not only deserves a special mention but is a true masterpiece.

All the elements from the oh-so-familiar Goat... are again to be found here - the riff-heavy compositions of blackened death-metal, the sexual lyricism dripping in satanic juices, the sensual yet occultish aesthetic; they're all here once again.  Far more importantly though, are the musical diversities that create that signature sound which are so much more prevalent than on previous releases.  It's easy enough to spot the increased yet intelligent usage of clean vocals that actually add to the atmosphere of a track.  The more obvious incorporation of synths in some tracks and unusual (at least when compared to contemporaries and imitators) orchestrations that conjure images of Stygian mysteries from the east or some arcane ritual, replete with bells and chimes as opposed to the usual trupets and fanfares, is also something that won't be missed by even the most casual listener.  Added to these however, is an element nurtured from their previous work and allowed to blossom into something unique:  The drums not only demonstrate tight blasts and mid-tempo stomps to please any death or black metal fan, but tear into sections of break-beat that, while occasionally made an appearance prior to this release, were never incorporated into the sound to this degree.  What's more - it works.  Syncopated rhythms and ferocious blasts merge seamlessly into these sections that add both respite and chaos in equal measure.

With all this said, this is still most definitely predominantly guitar-driven music.  There are a couple of exceptions, but on the whole the use of keyboards is subtle and complimentary, the drums sit well with the riffs at any chosen moment of the song and the riffs on offer are truly staggering.  When mixed with some, at times seriously beautiful and at others traditionally shredding guitar leads, you've got something pretty fucking awe-inspiring.

Yet it's not just the leads nor merely the calibre of riffage that make this so alluring.  To call this 'blackened death metal' or even 'progressive black/death' or some such banal moniker is an insult.  Far beyond the usual asinine mediocrity churned out under such simplistic labels, Chronzon supersedes it's 'peers' with apparent effortlessness.

Don't get me wrong:  there is black metal here, there is (arguably even more so) death metal and fuck me if this thing isn't truly progressive.  We have a combination of almost every extreme style of metal guitar work imaginable.  In the same breath we move from brutal slams - with the gutturals to match - to droning, open string chord progressions far more in keeping with that 'black metal' sound, by the way of trem-pick and power chord attacks.  This is a melting pot that everything's thrown into but instead of the usual disjointed, unfocused mess, what we end up with is the envy of alchemists.

Yes, it's progressive, yes it's metal (a monolithic, diverse genre in itself), but there's also distinct elements of jazz and electronica, the afore-mentioned break-beat an a myriad of other influences.  When bored with the repetitive similarity of so many metal releases, it's nice to go back to an album that, despite its age, hasn't dated at a day and sounds far more original than so many releases that have followed in it's wake.

Let's just hope they get their shit together and don't keep us waiting too long for some fresh material.

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