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An engraved account of the forgotten dead. - 92%

hells_unicorn, June 25th, 2020
Written based on this version: 1993, CD, Modern Primitive

Achieving greatness is often more a matter of timing and prolific output than it is simply putting forth a stellar album, or at least that is the impression that is given when considering the early Dutch death metal scene. Of particular note is the fairly obscure trailblazing Tilburg-based act Acrostichon, a band that basically had all of the right elements to be the premier band of The Netherlands, featuring not only a brilliant display of doom-drenched dissonance and brutality, but also a front woman in Corinne van den Brand, who's deep guttural barks and growls could go toe to toe with Chris Barnes any day of the decrepit week. Coming out of the underground in the late 80s and putting forth a series of potent demos that paralleled the output of fellow scene adherents Sinister and Gorefest, it might well have seemed that this band was destined for the same degree of exposure. While one can quibble over the factors surrounding why this didn't occur, it is undeniable that this outfit's debut Engraved In Black is of a very similar caliber to the formative debuts of said bands, along with Pestilence's highly visible sophomore and third outings, and thus worthy of far greater consideration than it has received.

In many ways, Arcostichon's debut outing parallels one of death metal's formative offerings, namely Death's Scream Bloody Gore. While this offering has much more of an early 90s character that's akin to the epic grandeur of early Entombed and Dismember, along with a hint of the doom-trappings of Winter and Autopsy for good measure, it is built almost entirely off of prior demo songs and resembles the aforementioned 1987 Florida classic's tendency to be as much a best of compilation as it does a grand debut. However, it differs in that the several years of development measured in each song is much more pronounced, culminating in a far more diverse array of brutal expressions that embodies almost every evolutionary step the style has taken since the template ventured beyond its extreme thrash roots. The battle hungry aggression of Bolt Thrower, the murky fatalism of Asphyx, and even occasional flourishes of sheer brutality and technical brilliance that painted Suffocation's earliest offerings on here, though the lead guitar display out of Richard Schouten and Jos van den Brand shows a Slayer-like chaotic flair more in line with the Hoffman brothers on the first couple Deicide albums.

Suffice it to say, this is an album that is both highly diverse, yet also one that is quite disciplined and strongly rooted in a textbook death metal aesthetic. Right from the creepy, slow-crawling intro of "Immolation Of The Agnostic", which also proves to be the most ambitious and long-winded offering of the bunch, it's very clear that this is a band bent on converting the dissonant rage of this style into something that tells a story musically, even though lyrically these songs are largely a two-dimensional assortment of gore-obsessed and spiritual horror. If there is any fault with this song, it is that it comes in at the beginning and showcases this band's highly competent array of thrash-infused riffing and dreary slow-paced dankness to the point of stealing some thunder from what follows. This isn't to say that punchy war blasters like "Walker Of Worlds" and "Lost Remembrance" don't deliver the goods with the same ferocity, or that slower trudging monsters like "Dehumanized" and "Mentally Deficient" fail to lay on the hopelessness any less effectively, but structurally this album may have been served better by having the opening crusher be the closer so as not to let the undead cat out of the bag.

Ultimately, this near flawless expression of early 90s brutality is hampered by one overarching flaw, namely the year that it was released. Though this album definitely has a meaty enough production to fit in well with the array of albums that were unleashed in '93, this album largely seems more suited to where things were in 1991, and ultimately somewhere between then and '92 would have been the right time for an album like this to jockey for position amid much of the debut output of their Dutch contemporaries. The only song that really seems to fit the year completely is the one song that didn't come from a previous demo or EP, namely the ultra-chaotic yet stylistically straightforward "Zombies", which leans a bit closer to being an overt Cannibal Corpse homage than anything else found on here. Nevertheless, this is one of those well-rounded, monstrously effective distillations of the death metal style that can appeal to just about any old school addict, from the ones who think all the greatness of the sub-genre was accomplished in Florida to those who took more to where things went when it crossed the Atlantic and took root in northern Europe. It's a forgotten gem that is begging to be rediscovered and unleashed upon a new generation, hopefully garnering the level of prominence that it missed during its original run.

Feels great to listen to it again! - 90%

dismember_marcin, August 9th, 2013

I am and I think I always have been a big fan of the Dutch death metal, with such bands as Asphyx, Gorefest, God Dethroned, Thanatos, Excavation, Delirium, Sinister, Mystic Charm, Pestilence, Beyond Belief, Acrostichon, Eternal Solstice plus few more, which I probably forgot now. This country had unique, heavy feeling when speaking of the sound and style of the bands from Holland and that is why so many of them really were my favourites – and still are, as they are just immortal classics for me. Anyway, here I am going to review another classic album – Acrostichon’s “Engraved In Black”. Well, Acrostichon for sure is one of those bands, which I got to know quite early, as I used to have a cassette version of this album in the mid 90’s, I think it was released by Lout Out, but I am not 100% sure now. I lost this cassette years ago. Recently I’ve noticed that Memento Mori from Spain is going to re-issue this album on CD, with some demo songs as bonus… and wow, just as many similar reissues it quickly ended up on my shipping list. Somehow though I was postponing the purchase, until one day I saw that Doomentia Records from Czech Republic plans to release a vinyl version of “Engraved In Black”. And let’s be honest – to have this record on vinyl became a quick priority for me, as such classics are best to have on this format. More so, Doomentia planned to issue “Engraved In Black” in very special way… and well, now I hold this piece of vinyl in my hands and I can say that The Crypt Records, which used to release the best pieces of vinyl records in recent years, now has a strong competitor, as Doomentia did just absolutely fuckin perfect and damn excellent work with “Engraved In Black”. Holding this album in hands is just something fantastic.

The whole album is housed in heavy and thick cardboard gatefold cover, which trust me is very impressive. Then you open it and see the title: Acrostichon - “Engraved In Black” (Twentieth anniversary edition)… there’s 24 pages booklet glued to the gatefold, so you turn the page and there are some comments from the musicians of Acrostichon and from Paul Speckmann. Cool! And then going through rest of the pages – there are many archive photos, all the lyrics for the album, with each song having a comment, which is something really cool, as this way you can know something more about the whole album, like for example the fact that “Immolation of the Agnostic” was the very first song written by Richard Schouten for Acrostichon (it also opened most of the gigs, which Acrostichon played). Finally there are few graphics in this booklet… and trust me, everyting really does look amazing. The layout, graphics, font, which they used – everything looks absolutely damn impressive.
For this and Memento Mori’s issue of “Engraved In Black” Acrostichon changed the front cover – and I usually moan that I don’t like when bands change the covers when they re-release their albums, as I think that the artwork is also an essential part of the music. They’ve changed the cover here, because – as Richard Schouten wrote – he simply wasn’t happy with the original artwork. And yeah, I definitely agree that this new drawing he did for “Engraved In Black” looks better and actually is damn scary hehe, but I would like to see the original cover used somewhere in the middle of the booklet as well (just like Centinex did for their “Subconscious Lobotomy” reissue – they had new front cover, but the old one has been shown in the booklet). So, it is a bit shame they haven’t reminded us the original artwork, especially that it wasn’t so bad, really… Luckily this new front cover looks great and vinyl edition of “Engraved In Black” contains a huge poster with it. So, the whole vinyl, with its heavy 350 grams cover and booklet looks astonishing. This vinyl is not cheap, but it is worth all money you’ll spend on it. Doomentia did excellent job, in my opinion… and if I had something to moan about then maybe the fact that “Engraved In Black” vinyl edition hasn’t got any Acrostichon demos as bonus (all in all they appeared on the CD version). I actually hoped that there will be a two LP set, with a couple of demos and EPs on the second record as a bonus… Sadly, they haven’t done that, so maybe one day they’ll issue a separate vinyl edition with Acrostichon demos for the collectors? It would be cool.

OK, finally so I have this long sought after vinyl edition of “Engraved In Black”… time to write something about the music, right? Well, Acrostichon is a classic representative of Dutch death metal – and Dutchs were all mainly about the atmosphere, about the heavy, massive death metal, with a lot of doomy parts, but with some more grinding moments here and there. And “Engraved In Black” is a classic example of this style. From the beginning it will certainly remind you such bands as Asphyx, early Gorefest, Mystic Charm and “Consuming Impulse” era Pestilence. On top of these bands, I would mention some American acts, such as Master, Derketa and Mythic – and obviously also Autopsy (so bands, which also had a strong doom influence in their music) and finally in few moments I can also smell a Swedish odour! Think of all these bands, listen to such songs as the mentioned before “Immolation of the Agnostic” and you’ll instantly recognize what do I mean. This song alone has really a strong bond to what Asphyx used to do. There really is a great, slow, doomy, dark and obscure riff, great heavy and massive part, which will crush your bones and flesh into one disgusting and stinking pile of carcass. Unlike Asphyx I think that Acrostichon more often used faster parts, so the music is more dynamic, with a lot of variety between all the songs and is also more brutal, especially with Corinne’s vocals, which are just unearthly (maybe they could have been better, but that woman seriously sounds angry and furious). But seriously, “Engraved In Black” is just a prime old school death metal. I worship such music, with its obscure and dark atmosphere, killer feeling (something all these modern death metal albums are completely lacking), really good, but still slightly raw production (here by Colin Richardson!)… It is priceless for me, to have such albums and listen to them. The time flies, it has already been almost 20 years since I have listened to “Engraved In Black” for the first time, but I still find this LP as something utterly refreshing and I am very enthusiastic to listen to it.
Standout tracks: “Immolation of the Agnostic”, “Lost Remembrance”, “Relics”, “Engraved In Black”
Final rate: 90/100

A forgotten Dutch death metal gem - 95%

morbert, June 29th, 2011

One of the most funny things I recall from those days was that vocalist Corine said in an interview that she disliked the Gorefest debut (Mindloss) only having one new song. When Acrostichon’s “ Engraved In Black” finally came out it also featured…. One new song. And that was “Zombies”. A great song by the way. A lyrical tribute to old horror movies and musically inspired by the likes of Autopsy and Coroner with a touch of hardcore punk backing vocals.

The production (Colin Richardson) was a lot sharper than their demos were. The guitars still sounded heavy but they had so much more definition. And of course the drums sounded more mature. Bass and vocals? Just as good as always really. The rest of the album consists of material that was written from 1987 to 1991. So a lot of diversity was to be expected. We have ancient songs like “Havoc” and “Mentally Deficient” which are relatively shorter songs and more straight forward than the newer material. Especially the catchiness and rhythms of “Mentally Deficient” are memorable.

Then there are the most catchy songs from their “Dehumanized” demo, namely “Dehymanized”and “Lost Remembrance”. I still wonder why the epic “Thriving On Chaos” was not included since that song had proved to be a live favorite. Still, “Dehymanized”and “Lost Remembrance” were the most brutal (and as said, catchy) songs from that demo, so no complaints here. Opener “Immolation Of The Agnostic” came from the first ever demo “Prologue” and with this production is becomes clear how good and well crafted this song actually is. It goes through all tempi and dynamics Acrotichon were know for yet still remaining a strong and coherent composition. Truly a classic Acrostichon song!

The remaining three songs (“Walker Of Worlds”, “Relics” and “Engraved in Black”) are all around the 6 minute mark and combine the intensity of their shorter songs with the earlier mentioned more epic and elaborate “Immolation Of The Agnostic ”. These three songs came from their earlier 1991 live tape (on which relics was still called “Germinant Malefaction”) and with this production they sound even better (the cymbals on that demo were quite annoying). “Walker Of Worlds” has some amazing speed but it becomes obvious blast speed drums are not Serge Smolders’ favorite thing to do (well maybe they are but he sounds better and more convincing when playing D-beat or doom).

“Relics” has also appeared earlier on a Peaceville sampler and that version was slightly more enjoyable because of the longer intro and the production (which lay soundwise between this album and their Dehumanized demo). Also the version of “Mentally Deficient” which had appeared on the D.S.F.A. 3 sampler was slightly better than this version (again, because of the production)

So even if the production was not their best, it surely was better than their earlier demos. Acrostichon sounded more dynamic than other Dutch death metal bands in that period. The balance between ultra doom, speed and even some groove gave them their own specific sound. Not forgetting to mention Corine’s vocals. So deep, so dirty! Guitarist Richard Schouten was the main songwriter for the band and surely gave the world some marvellous death metal classics! The other guitarist Jos had the hots for classic metal and it showed! His solo’s were high standard for death metal criteria.

Try to imagine combining Autopsy with Nihilist but with a more in your face production and throw in some extra Black Sabbath and a few hints of ancient thrash. Acrostichon had character!

Too bad it took them a few years before finally releasing their debut album. If they'd done that 2 years earlier, they might have become a lot bigger than they did in the end. By the way: the artwork sucks. But their artwork always sucked.