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Quality though still not 'Strike' - 91%

Noktorn, January 22nd, 2009

This release has some rather annoying production elements which damages the overall presentation. The guitar tone is a bit overly digital and lacking breadth of tone, the drums are overly thumping and tend to dominate most of the sonic spectrum, and as a whole the mixing seems kind of haphazard and reduces the blasting sections to a pile of noise, which is unfortunate because Axis Of Advance's tremolo riffs are some of the best in this sort of chaotic black/death style. It's pretty strange considering the fantastically clear but not overproduced style of albums like 'Strike', and I think 'Obey' suffers as a result of it, almost as though the band was trying to artificially increase the brutality of their music beyond what was necessary.

Once you get past the production, though, the band is nearly as strong as they are on their seminal debut. Axis Of Advance has a fairly unique style, taking the base elements of Conqueror and making them a bit more mature and less prone to random chaos. There's still chaos, but now it has a bit more purpose behind it, with narrative songs articulated through neatly arranged riffs and harrowing song structures. The band did sort of shoot its load on their first album; 'Strike' is probably never going to be topped by the band in either conceptual or musical dimensions, and it probably resides in my top twenty or so albums of all time, but 'Obey' is a pretty good attempt to bring back some of the drama that was lacking from slightly mediocre middle work 'The List'.

The big secret of Axis Of Advance is that they're really a funeral doom band at heart. Their noted Thergothon cover probably raised more than a few eyebrows when it emerged, but it's really just the most obvious nod to the style of music which greatly influences the band's overall sound. Most of the epic, melodic riffs that are Axis Of Advance's main unique element are really just Thergothon and Skepticism style riffs given speed and density via tremolo and blast beats; they might sound rawer but melodically they're the same. The clearest example of the band that Axis Of Advance really wants to be is on 'Cube Of Odium', easily the album's best track and a crushing paean to Thergothon; tell me any of the riffs wouldn't belong with just the slightest drop in tempo on 'Stream From The Heavens'. The band just inserts the basic idea into a new frame of reference, and though not entirely original, it is an extremely memorable and intensely heavy track.

The fast stuff is good too, of course, and this is where Axis Of Advance is generally a little more 'normal'. The opening track with its squeaky, atonal riff doesn't get things off to a spectacular start and it seems to be the band playing against their strengths, but give them a little time to work out their most ferocious impulses and you're back to a fair mimicry of the elements which made 'Strike' so stirring: the song structures which manage to take a scenic route without ever meandering too far from their main thread, the excellent, bordering on barbaric instrumental performances, and, of course, the majestic riffs which tie it all together. The band does of course indulge their Revenge tendencies a little bit more than they did on the first album, but not quite to the extent of the middle work, which will probably please those who found 'Strike' for some reason effete and lacking blast beats and screams.

This is not the band's best work, but it is still better than a good 95% of other metal out there simply because it's so well developed. It doesn't feel like it's trying to prove anything to the listener and is pretty aware of its own qualities, so it doesn't need to experiment excessively or try to better itself where it's not needed. It's just an excellent album that succeeds on its own terms, without making concessions to anyone.