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I can appreciate the originality in what The Axis of Perdition have done with Urfe, but am still feeling let down that they've done it without actually utilising much in the way of music. Their past couple of releases had pointed to the fact that they may go in this direction though, so no-one can complain TOO much.
With that said however, if I'd have wanted to listen to a horror audiobook, I'd have bought one. I had no idea of what to expect when pressing play, having read or heard nothing about the release until it reached me from the store. Thus I'd expected some sort of music in the vein of Blut Aus Nord, splashed with swathes of creepy atmospherics and will-crushing darkness. A few shimmers of guitar can be heard on the second disc, but this album as a whole is pretty much entirely based around a horror story of epic proportions, set to a backdrop of spooky ambience, shrill squeals, groans and general ghoulishness.
If you're in the mood for this kind of thing and have the time to sit and actually take in the dark ambience; it is a fair listen. If you're not, it'll be nothing more than tedious and annoying. The story itself, while not putting itself up for any literary awards paints a grim and twisted picture in the listeners minds eye. With that said, I still managed to chuckle out loud a few times (the narrator mentions 'pants' a few times - what can I say, I have a strange sense of humour). As a story progresses, it doesn't quite grab you as I'd like it too. You generally feel no apathy for the main character, often ending up listening to a string of horrific things that happen to him as he makes his journey though a dystopian hellhole. However, tension is built in certain circumstances which do create geniune unease (especially when details are described in a particularly gruesome manner).
It's OK for what it is, as an experimental story based soley around spoken word piece, just don't expect much in the way of 'music' as you know and love it when purchasing this CD.
The Axis of Perdition has been a very, very interesting band, and one of the few to offer something truly original since the turn of the millenium. While The Ichneumon Method (And Less Welcome Techniques) is a rather enjoyable album, their apex was to be found neatly wedged between that and the second -and much better- full-length, Deleted Scenes from the Transition Hospital. Yup, the best offering they have so far managed to produce is the meagre 666 copies of the Physical Illucinations in the Sewer of Xuchilbara (The Red God) EP, and now it unfortunately looks like the times have changed and the excellent EP will never be dethroned, unless the band allows themselves to be swept into a throwback mode.
Urfe, a piece of work with an uncharacteristically short name and equally strangely long playing time, is the result of a three-year wait after the times of Deleted Scenes, and while it may be labelled a bold move, daring progression, or perhaps even something more superlative, it certainly isn't what the fans of the band were used to, and ends up as a definitive opinion-splitter. The quality and the rating of such a strange release after a short series of something completely different is of course everybody's own business, but to many, this will be a huge disappointment, and, what's perhaps worse, quite an expensive double-CD in a neat digipack with lamentably little replay value.
Gone are the extremely dark ambient parts, gone are the distant, frantic echoed guitars playing insane metal somewhere in the background, gone are the soundscapes that didn't provide the listener with pre-chewed ideas and sights but dug into his own memories and fears, and forcibly tore out the emotions instead of visions and tales. What we got instead is a... a... radioplay?
The whole hour and a half is a story of some strange kind, read out as a radioplay, with a heavy dark ambient background, in two parts that could well be from a perverted 60s BBC horror radioplay, weren't it for the extravagant use of F-words, modern background noise and music, and a story that would never have made it past the prudent self-censorship of those times. The background sounds vary from extremely well-made synth ambient to pseudo-random noise, to actual metallic parts that resemble the average moments on the earlier works, and to some frantic drumming without cymbals. Almost throughout the album, there are hints of dripping damp sewers, someone or something chewing on something sinewy in the dark, and distant industrial sounds. There is a constant hum, wet sounds of something, and everything that would fit the background of a horror radioplay. And then there is the radioplay itself, and here the album runs into trouble. The story, read by Leslie Simpson, is more a collection of fragments, snapshots of moments in an illogical progression to something unnamed. And the story does not work.
Well, it could work, and it might well be a logical tale of something, but following it would call for such a huge investment of concentration and uninterrupted time that anyone actually committing to that and persisting in it is a rare creature. There are gory scenes, dirt, horror, and all in a way that makes the listener recall random scenes in a long-forgotten episode of ancient Sapphire and Steel story. Those were not understandable unless faithfully followed from the beginning of the story to the very end, and the same atmosphere of unknown horros was there. But Sapphire and Steel, and all such british works, both on the radio and TV, were children of their time, and using the same basic idea is obviously more like paying homage to the wonders of the past than a viable idea for an album today.
The fragments left in the mind, after a dozen spins of the almost excruciatingly long album, are scattered, more like visions from a dozen different stories. The music leaves mental images of everything from a bleakness of a post-holocaust ruined city to some parts of echo-y synth-choir background music on Halo, to an industrial brand of haunted houses. Not bad, by any means, but unconnected. The visions have little to do with the music, and they tend to do what the muddled lyrics on the earlier albums rarely did: they redirect the mind from the internal emotions of the listener to some prefabricated scene set in a vision designed by the storyteller. And that, by default, is a lot less scary than what can be found in a mind of a human being. Subjective horror, found in the recesses of the grey brain matter of the person himself, is a lot more twisted and fearful than any horror that anyone could convey using words alone, and that was what Deleted Scenes and Physical Illucinations evoked in their finest moments. Here, the storyteller provides surreal and somewhat scary nightmares, but eventually just stories, not the spirit guides to force the visions from the listener's own mind like the music on the earlier did.
Perhaps this is meant as a pastiche of the work of the past masters of horror, a special homage to those horror stories on the radio decades ago? That may be it. In a sense, The Axis of Perdition could have turned into a Quentin Tarantino of radioplays, and set forth to recreate the stories of old, only in an improved, more effect-laden form, with seriousness beyond even the earlier works of the band and the stories they emulate. Yes, that might be it. But the radioplays in their ancient days were one-shot deals, perhaps meant to be repeated a few times, and then left on dusty reels in a storage room somewhere in the bowels of the radio company, to be recalled again after a few years if the letters that carried the feedback from the audiences so suggested. An album, in the modern days, and paid for with actual money by a fan of a band, should always be designed to be played repeatedly, and the visions on Urfe get worn too thin too quickly for that purpose. Moonsorrow stumbled upon the same mistake on their Tulimyrsky EP when they included the lengthy title track with the spoken story, and it works just as badly here. The story wears thin, and turns from a story into mere ballast. Urfe would be better and more enjoyable without the story. And that's a pity. Because some of the stuff piled on the background of the powerless narration is really good. Not metal, mostly, but good and emotion-provoking ambient. And the distraction, the story with its swearing and gore, just kills the immersion.
This album is most likely a disappointment for those who liked The Axis of Perdition that produced the earlier masterpieces. No doubt, many will love love this, but the replay value is neglible, and the suspension of disbelief simply is not there. Processed too far, thought out too well, Urfe hits the intended target, but unfortunately misses the subconscious.
This album is in two parts. There are some significant differences between the two so I'll review them separately.
Grief of the Unclean
Don't you hate how an album is bad but for reasons that aren't related to the content at all? Examples would be bad production, sound issues, tracks cut off, and so on. Well Grief of the Unclean is about 45 minutes of dramatic storytelling backed by spooky machine-like dark ambient music. Now Urfe is my first album by The Axis of Perdition so I can't give the same criticism as others seem to be giving, which from what I gather is that they're a black metal band and their first offering in four years is a big bloated piece of spoken word. ("I spent so fucking long waiting for a bad Jeff Wayne horror album.") Fortunately, I'm the type of chap that just loves a good story so I approached this optimistically with an open mind. The result is I didn't really enjoy it. It's a shame, though, because I didn't not enjoy it because the story was bad or anything like that. The problem is I haven't a clue what the story was. The audibility of the narrator varies depending on how clear he's speaking and how loud the backing music is at the time. Part V of this story is a great example of this. The narrator is very exasperatedly telling an intense profanity-laced story which I can't make head nor tail of because of the loud machine music. Towards the end of the track the machine horde seems to recede and I can hear what this dude is trying to say. He was explaining the aftermath of the big epic thing that was happening over the past five minutes but it all meant nothing to me because I hadn't the slightest idea what the fuck had just happened. On a fun side note, I have something good to say and something bad to say about the actor doing the narrating on this album. Put in a nice way, the band got one of the actors from one of my all-time favorite movies, Dog Soldiers, to tell this story! However, the actor is Leslie Simpson. He's the one that played Private Terry Milburn; the cowardly pansy that got pulled out through a window and raped by lycanthropes off-screen for the next thirty minutes or so before being decapitated in front of the much cooler, much manlier Private Joe Kirkley. Now see if they'd gotten that Scott that played Private Cooper to do the narrating, that would've been groovy-pants! The mere thought of some deep Scottish-accented dramatic storytelling tickled my engorged pseudo-intellectual fancy. But no, they got the British Army equivalent of Saving Private Ryan's Timothy Upham. Oh, bother that nonsense.
The Great Unwashed
The first movement of the second section of this album is in the same fashion as Grief of the Unclean. We've still got dramatic storytelling with meaning rendered moot by the loud ambient backing. The next movement is a very different story, mind you. This track is actual music instead of the unfortunately pointless storytelling I've been served with for almost an hour. It's pretty alright too! It sounds like a curious mish-mash of Shining, Deathspell Omega, and Meshuggah. It's very pompous, industrial, depressive, dissonant, and creepy-crawly. I was diggin' it, but after just 3-minutes of this coolness, the instruments fade out to form ambiance while Private Pussywuss resumes telling his story. It takes 3-4 minutes of painstaking narration and buildup for the song to really start being interesting again. The third movement starts with more storytelling before going into what's actually a pretty nice spooky drone section for a few minutes but ultimately failing as the rest of the movement is kind of a clusterfuck of storytelling, industrial metal, and ambient. Mixed as such, it all falls flat. The fourth movement further compounds the problem of the incomprehensible story by having multiple voices narrating at once. Ending on a positive note, though, things sort of pick up with the sixth movement. No storytelling, no ambient machine sounds, just a nice moody piece of melancholy.
Grief of the Unclean is a big chunk of useless talking while The Great Unwashed is more of the same but with some cool-sounding metal spliced into a couple tracks and a nice sad song to go out on. I guess what's meant to be appreciated here is the story, so it's a shame I can't follow it. It still all sounds pretty interesting though, so perhaps in the future the verses will be posted online somewhere and I can give this album another spin in hopes of getting the full intended experience. It might turn out pretty good! Still, the negative opinion I'm holding right now ultimately cannot be changed. It doesn't really make sense that in order to appreciate some spoken word I need some written word to help me comprehend it. To be brutally simple, the album is not good. The Axis of Perdition have created a story that can't be followed, a flow that's broken, and an album that sucks.
While I'm not one to know if the while idea of putting a spoken story to music is a common occurrence in other genres of music, I can say for sure this is not something you'd find at all in metal. The Axis of Perdition return with another offering of urban decay, morbid obscenities, and a sound that can only be described as nightmarish in their latest album, Urfe. What's more, they add an original spin to it and put the whole thing as a story, narrating it in a way very reminiscent of 30's and 40's radio broadcasts, although it is safe to say Junior and family would rush to the living room to hear this story told by the warm fireplace.
Of equal importance to the narrated story (Which must end here due to possible spoilers. We wouldn't want that now, would we?) is the extremely dark ambient music always playing in the background. For those familiar with the Deleted Scenes album, the ambiance here will have the same feel; sounds that just can't help but get under your skin, eerie synths, and quite a number of other miscellaneous sound effects that add to the grand effect. For better or worse, at times this ambient music rises to a volume greater than the narrator at certain points, but not for very long. Enough to where one might strain to discern a few sentences; however, as one might also expect, this surge in volume often indicates the climactic parts of Urfe's story. Neither music nor narration really feel like they're competing for audible superiority; a fact of great importance as it makes for clear understanding of the narrator without losing focus on his voice while the background music registers in your head, and vise versa.
There are two complaints I have towards Urfe though, which was probably inevitable. The first being the choice of musical direction taken during the last half of the second disc. What appeal this album might have had for those less inclined towards metal is swept away as tracks II through IV of the second disc progress. The ambient music changes to a very violent and grating series of droning guitar riffs, placed at such a volume that, as the listener will inevitably have this album cranked to max, present a curious, and almost needless, state of unpleasantness, and successfully breaks the listener out of any state of enthrallment they might have been in . As one can imagine, the narration dies down in favor of shrieks reminiscent of the band's earlier albums. The story is lost for a time, at least for me; I couldn't make heads or tales of the vocals, and I don't imagine many other listeners could either. This isn't to say the music present is bad, on the contrary, it is very unnerving and fitting for the story's setting.
The second complaint, or rather warning, is there isn't much in the way of repeatability. Urfe is a story, hardly any different from a typical book. As such, I wouldn't expect this album to obtain multiple listens very often, especially since the whole effect is lost if interrupted, or started from anywhere but the beginning. Compare it to pulling a book of a shelf and flipping to a random page and reading; it doesn't make sense, does it? An hour and a half isn't a needlessly long time for an album, but given the circumstances in which it needs to be listened to, it could prove to be a daunting task.
When all is said and done, The Axis of Perdition still succeeds in delivering an amazing album. So long as one can get past the hyper-sensitivity of the subject matter, and any fan of these guys won't have a problem with that, the story is nothing but captivating and enthralling. I found myself bound to my area while the tracks of the first CD played, my mind racing to create this terrible world brought about by humankind that serves as the setting, and wondering how the story was going to end. Urfe presented a type of album completely new to me, and probably new to many listeners as well. I recommend this especially to fans of dark ambient, good stories, and anybody craving something new and different. Try not to let the above mentioned bit of disc two dissuade you, even when you reach it, because the story's conclusion more than makes up for the few minutes of discomfort. I promise.
Hats off to 'Axis' for what is probably the most intriguing album of 2009.
As most of you reading this review will probably know already, The Axis of Perdition make strange and fucked up music and while expecting the same thing to pop up on their new album, “Urfe”, I have to admit that I was still wholly unprepared for what ensued. This surely was something unexpected. First of all, if you are hoping to find sick and twisted black metal with all sorts of additional elements of creepiness, you might as well stop reading this review because there is hardly any real metal of any kind to be found on these two discs. In fact, the metal sections that do come up are mostly to be found on the second half of the second disc. However, when able to look past this, you will be treated to something intriguing, regardless of the lack of metal music.
What is offered on “Urfe” is the story of the eponymous main character's struggles with all sorts of psychological evils. Urfe himself tells us his rather intricate story in both direct and quoted speech while being backed by what can best be described as dark ambient sounds that try to recreate the scenes which Urfe is reliving through his narration. The atmosphere created is chilling and as intricate as Urfe's story itself and it really helps the listener envision the scenes. As such, not much can be said about the music itself, because it is merely the means to a greater end, but it works and does what the band presumably wanted it to do. As soon as the first disc starts off and we are welcomed by the narrator's voice, it is impossible not to be drawn in by both the narrator's soothing vocal qualities as by the atmosphere that is created by the music.
At different times, “Urfe” reminds of Silent Hill soundtracks, Diabolical Masquerade's “Death's Design” album and even Jeff Wayne's “War of the World” (without the sappy love songs). The music and story are clearly to be thought of in a horror and suspense related theme and as such remind of the former two, while the narration and the story telling reminds mostly of radio plays and the “War of the Worlds” album. One of the downsides of the album and one which is difficult to look past is that at certain points the ambient (background) sounds are too overbearing and drown out the narration, making it impossible to hear what the narrator is telling. This can get quite frustrating, especially when you are really intent on listening to the narrator's story and finding out what happened to him during his struggles. While, for the most part, the background noise helps in creating the scenes and is really a valuable part of the whole, it is disappointing to notice that sometimes it just gets a bit too much. This is only a small negative point, however, and it is largely made up for by the fact that the story itself is intricate and intriguing.
In short, the new The Axis of Perdition album is an intriguing piece of work and should definitely be listened to at least once by anyone who likes dark music in general. That being said, the listener is advised to remind him or herself of the fact that this is an album that should be enjoyed for its story-telling qualities and not so much for its musical brilliance.
(Originally written for http://www.gothtronic.com/)
After releasing an industrial black metal maelstrom in the "Ichneumon Method" and a more eerie industrial black/ambient piece in “Deleted Scenes from the Transition Hospital” it was interesting to see where The Axis were going to take their music. Well, I can tell you right now, this one will divide opinion.
The Axis new album, “Urfe”, can be described as a spoken word piece derived over two disks, with musical contribution and a shed load of industrial ambience. The story, which I do not want to give away post-haste, is that of a man travelling thorough a broken city, full of all the horrors you would expect coming from this band, being led by a mysterious figure, or entity, named “Pylon”.
You are told the story by none other than horror and thriller actor Leslie Simpson whose work I find very effective as his British accent narrates the horrors experienced perfectly.
As far as the music goes, it is quite sparse and most of the narration is accompanied by industrial ambiance, moving along with what you would hear in the story. Admittedly this disappointed me, or should I say surprised me at first, because being a huge fan of the two previous outputs I was expecting more tortured riffs and more death or black metal vocals. After a few listens I realised that although there is still some of that present, this is an entirely different beast altogether and now I am very glad for that.
Most of the first disk is made up of spoken word and industrial ambience, bar some strangely Floyd-esque atmospherics and some keyboard work here and there. Now I am aware that this statement alone will put people off, but once you have been dragged in by the story there really is no turning back. This is not an album to rock out to, put a set of headphones in and take it in like a film, a horror film that is actually truly scary. These artists are trying to create, or recreate a genre and are doing it slowly, but very effectively in my opinion, although I have to say you need to invest time into “Urfe” to truly appreciate it. This disk seems like almost an introduction into the madness, but with the brilliance that is the narration combined with the eerie atmospherics and progressive meanderings I keep wanting to go back for more, leaving me perfectly prepared for the second part of the story.
The second disk has more work akin to their previous albums although still very in context with the story. The guitars make their entry here, contributing greatly to the atmosphere, even with the introduction of some clean singing in a similar style as other avant-garde black metal bands like Ved Buens Ende and Arcturus. There is also a return of the tortured shrieked vocals similar to on Deleted Scenes and these parts really up the intensity of the experience. It is as if the first disk is the first chapter of the story, and while it still has some fairly brain melting parts, the chaos really starts to ensue on the second disk with the story reaching new heights which really do require the blackened industrial metal accompaniment that The Axis supply. The story is still narrated throughout but it is more chopped up between the more metal instances in this disk, bringing the listener in and out of the creepy atmosphere and crushing metal, while still feeling Mr. Urfe’s pain on his un-fortuitous journey, only to be brought to a haunting conclusion towards the end.
Unfortunately there are a couple of things in this album that I do not believe completely work, although it never really ruins the experience for me. Such things as the very explicit sexual acts described remind me a bit too much of jokey goregrind bands. Also with the almost progressive meanderings Axis go into being a great surprise to me, I would have liked there to be maybe a smidgen more of this, but this is just me nit-picking really and to be honest I cannot really think of any other albums coming out this year or even in the more recent years past that have grabbed my attention as much as this (unless Snorre Ruch can produce another Grymyrk somehow).
Overall this is an album to be experienced rather than to be listened to and it will get its fair share of detractors from fans that just want brutality rather than atmosphere. I for one believe that with most metal releases coming out these days either being re-united bands releasing albums half as good as their old stuff, or bands trying to be “retro”, which may be “fun” but has no longevity , The Axis of Perdition have really pushed boundaries with this release. I would even go as far as saying that upon listening to it for the first couple of times I got the same overwhelming excitement and confusion as I had when first being exposed to other extremes like Morbid Angel and Darkthrone.
If you want to investigate the potential furthering of our beloved genre, you could do a lot worse that to investigate here but, I will warn you now, it may leave you asking….
Am I Dead?...... Is this, Death?.