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Noktorn, March 9th, 2009

Of the main Runefire Records circle of artists, this is probably my favorite, which would probably come as a surprise to many of those who know my tastes. To be more blunt, Ax sounds a great deal like Drudkh, going so far as to dedicate an entire EP to the band later on, and I'm of the opinion that Drudkh's music mostly sounds like the sinister goings-on just behind the curtain of a room at your local bathhouse. Ax actually manages to out-Drudkh Drudkh and write what the band would craft if they had any sort of grasp of pacing or dynamics. To be fair, Ax doesn't sound excessively like them on this release, which is probably why I like it so much: it's simple, riffy, organic black metal with just a little bit more complexity than you'd expect lurking just under the surface of the music.

This is generally pretty similar to Envenom Ascension in that it's tremolo-based black metal with programmed drums and standard vocals. Fortunately enough, the production on this is much better than most other Runefire releases, without the smothered digital sound of Envenom Ascension's first album and even with a pretty good, rich guitar tone. As previously stated, this is very riffy and there's not a great deal of variation to be found in the other instrumental voices, but the song structure isn't quite as slideshow-like, so the riffs develop and interact in a more organic and professional fashion than usual. Much of the music is predictable, but in a good way: it means that the artist knows the way certain things should logically go, which is a nice change of pace from the numerous bands out there who string random notes together and think they're being unique.

Admittedly, the riffs are kind of a mixed bag, again in the Envenom Ascension style of good-not-great, though some of them trend towards the latter. The main riffs on 'Empower' and 'Dance Of Dybbuk' are solid and very memorable and showcase Ax at its best. On the other hand, you've got tracks like 'Boneshatter' which seriously go nowhere. The main riff is something that you would make after writing black metal for about a month; it doesn't sound BAD per se, it's just so overly conventional that you begin to think it is after hearing it twice (and you hear it much more than twice). On the whole, though, these moments are few and far between, and even the most Drudkh-influenced track, 'Dawn Of Solitude', has a great main riff of the 'Autumn Aurora' variety, bright and stark yet melodically sound.

My only other real complain about this release other than the occasional inconsistency in songwriting is the length; minus three ambient tracks, this is only five 'real' songs long and under a half hour in length. It's not that big a problem; I generally prefer shorter albums anyway, but axing a track like 'Torturous Dimension' and replacing it with something more substantial would make the running time a little more comfortable. The presence of two instrumental tracks is also pretty weird; that makes only three completely full-fledged compositions, and I really wonder if a little bit couldn't have been added to pad this out. But then again, it's good that this is relatively devoid of filler.

Ax debut full-length is a surprisingly solid underground release. While the band hasn't yet hit its full potential, this is a very promising full-length from this young project. Keep an eye out for future material by the band; hopefully another full-length will be more substantial and work out some of the music's kinks.