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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?.