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Going back to the first half of the 2000s, the abominant The Axis of Perdition was already churning out impressive industrialized black metal horror, not unlike Atrium Carceri’s ambience and Blut Aus Nord’s twisted metal, and I remember enjoying Physical Illucinations in the Sewer of Xuchilbara (The Red God) and Deleted Scenes from the Transition Hospital to a great extent. Keeping this in mind, the group’s newest offering Tenements (of the Anointed Flesh) is unfortunately not quite as captivating release, lacking in some crucial aspects such as truly haunting compositions and a fitting sound.
After the brief introduction, ”Unveiled” kicks in with the programmed drums that, even though appearing on a heavily industrial album, seem somewhat amateurish, the sterile hammering not working for the atmosphere’s good at all. However, the overall atmosphere is fittingly hysterical, a thousand voices echoing all around the soundscape, guitars firing rapid and seemingly incoherent discordance, albeit the chord progressions are almost never remarkable. Vocals are the weakest link of the line-up: while for the most part they are decent raspy screams - though sometimes the forced semi-clean vocals (”Unveiled”, ”The Flesh Spiral”) sound like they’d better belong to an insipid nu-metal group from yesteryears, lacking strength and any seriousness that an album of this kind would need - there’s really nothing mysterious about the vocal output.
The humming ambient interlude ”Dark Red Other” is the first proper breathing moment after an exhausting four-song combo of constant chaos. After that, the same feast on dissonant melodies continue until ”Ordained” begins, a 180 degree turn from the material before it, starting with epic synths and then bursting into impressive melancholic black metal with twirling melodies and only slight elements of the convulsing metal that Tenements otherwise provides. This song is a definite highlight of the album, a heard-rending piece combining despair and sickness, sung in clean vocals, and it makes me wish the 60-minute whole had more of this style.
I hate to say it, but all in all Tenements (of the Anointed Flesh) leaves a slightly negative taste, mostly because the music doesn’t quite deliver the frightening elements of their early material; instead, it all sounds a little common, already heard on various other black metal albums. Having only one truly great song, I must settle to an okay rating. Without that one particular track, take the half star off.
2.5 / 5
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Middlesbrough's (now Newcastle) The Axis of Perdition have been creating the most chaotic, disharmonic black metal for almost ten years now. In that time there has been room for complete deviance in experimentation (Urfe) as well as combining their tumultuous racket with eerie dark ambient, creating a kind of black metal which has no form, like some hideous Lovecraftian abomination, dripping in the unspeakable horror which only The Axis of Perdition could conceive.
This latest release, Tenements (Of The Anointed Flesh) offers a twist on their black metal sound (cf. 'The Ichneumon Method (and other less welcome techniques)'), but also new innovations which give this album the very curiosities which will urge the listener to rediscover new, loathsome secrets embedded in the sound like a bot fly maggot in one's flesh. To begin with, it is as structured as The Axis of Perdition could ever make their music, which of course is entirely amorphous, however, it has 'hooks' and riffs which could be identified as 'verses' if you used your imagination. This may be down to the use of Dan Mullins on actual drums, rather than the drum programming of previous albums. On that issue, the drums create something unique in The Axis of Perdition, they can be used not only for time-keeping or providing a percussive background to the riffs at hand, but can take on a life of their own, like a machine with revolving gears coming to life with Mullins' rolling blastbeats.
The vocals are more human this time around, sometimes shouting, sometimes tormented screams rather than the screeches and growls of more conventional black metal – however, this gives the sound a more personal connection to the listener. Brooke's voice gives what most two-dimensional black metal bands lack; passion and emotion. In various songs on the album he now also includes clean vocals which he interchanges amidst the repulsive screams, sounding like Emperor's Ihsahn, fitting suitably with Mike's lead guitar trills. The guitar seems like it is tuned to standard D, as opposed to the heavy B tuning of 'The Ichneumon Method' (suggesting a 7 string perhaps), and as such the sound of the guitar feels darker and more flexible than before. The production is wonderfully crisp and clear, but because of this, can sometimes be lacking in force and uses the ambient and synths to replace this atmosphere; there is the feeling that something is missing from the sound and this can be quite uncomfortable. Whether this discomforting hollowness in the production was intentional, I do not know.
'Tenements (Of The Anointed Flesh)' cannot be separated into individual components without losing something as a whole, the meshing together of the album is the only thing which is harmonic.
The album works with various dynamics and contrasting changes, 'Tenements...' is very visual as the listener becomes part of the Axis so to speak. The riffs are those expected of earlier The Axis of Perdition, like if Emperor were playing at the Heaven's Night bar of Silent Hill, though they are also interwoven with keyboards and ambient which add to both the aural and visual monstrosity. The drumming and guitars also work well together with rhythmic 'chugging' like a rusted machine underlying the insanity of the foreground.
One of the most fascinating features of the structure of 'Tenements (Of The Anointed Flesh)' is the relation to the lyrical themes and the structure of the songs. The album itself is literally a 'Flesh spiral' and falls steadily into decay and ruin, back to the emptiness from which all chaos had previously emerged before. The lyrics to 'Unbound'; 'crawling downwards, stagger onwards, always downwards, I'm worming downwards' point the direction that this album is going as it progresses. The lyrics continue; 'the omnipresent stench of faeces and fear, into the womb of the spiral, led by sigils and portents', also showing how the lyrics of one song contain titles of another and musically thematic continuation. I stress how important it is that this album be taken as a whole not only because it works better, but because this was how it is meant to be taken.
The thematic 'decay' of the album preceded by earlier tracks appears complete by the track 'Disintegration' which bends the mind to the point of snapping, using rhythmic riffs working in counterpoint with the drumming, eventually becoming more and more fragmented when the track itself is breaking up.
My personal favourite song of this album is 'Ordained' which is also the most unique song on 'Tenements...'. Brooke's clean vocals and an epic 'choir' sounds like something which would have been more expected of Wodensthrone whom Mike Blenkarn also plays keyboards for, but it fits perfectly in its place in 'Tenements (Of The Anointed Flesh)'.
Overall, this album is an experience, not something to listened to casually or at a club. Just like their inspiration H.P. Lovecraft, the real terror of The Axis of Perdition is created in the way with which the listeners own fears reflect upon themselves through the music, building visual imagery and dragging the listener into the sound. There are few bands that can accomplish such a feat, and as such The Axis of Perdition are not a band to be ignored or taken lightly. 'Tenements (Of The Anointed Flesh)' is a necessary addition to anyone who has heeded the warning of this review and still wishes to put their sanity at risk.