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The distilled essence of blackened grandeur - 90%

iamntbatman, October 19th, 2013

Sarkrista are a relatively new German black metal band, with this, their debut full-length, being their only release to date. Something of an anomaly, this band skipped straight to fully formed full-length, utterly skipping the usual stage of releasing demos, then later splits and EP's often favored by modern black metal bands playing in a 90's/early 2000's style as these guys do. More surprising still, only one of the band members even has any experience whatsoever outside of this collective.

Despite being apparently inexperienced and brashly jumping straight into the deep end of the full-length format, there is absolutely nothing embryonic, unprofessional, awkward or uninspired about the music on The Acheronian Worship. A blind taste-test of the songs on this album would very likely result in anyone with any passing interest in the style reckoning this the work of scene veterans, if not a band with a decade or more experience under their belts. It's really quite refreshing, harkening back to an earlier time in the 90's when it was so common for black metal bands to have monumentally satisfying early material. These days promising bands often take a few releases and several years to mature, so this is great news for an impatient guy like myself.

The style employed on The Acheronian Worship could be described as broadly Northern European, with similarities being detectable between this material and more recent efforts by Taake, though some of the more mid-paced sections remind me quite a bit of recent material by Shatraug's more famous bands. It's largely devoid of the punky elements heard in Sargeist material, limited to use of punk/thrash drum beats and little else. The riffing style heavily favors swarming, sweeping tremolo melodies for the more rocking, groovy mid-paced sections and faster blast-supported bits as well, though the driving closing song "Black Clouds of Revelation" instead favors a simpler, strummed-chord approach that serves well to distinguish the song as the ending of the journey.

While highly enjoyable, the material is not without its missteps; while the production values are generally very high, the guitars could stand to have a little more bite in their tone, as they're the central focus of the songwriting but don't quite have the teeth needed to really shine. The guitars are suitably trebly, with a fairly warm tube tone, but just don't quite cut like they should. On the plus side, the drums sound excellent, with a very crisp, live recording, perfectly capturing the rumbling double bass, the nice snappy snare tone and giving a nice clarity to the cymbals. The vocals also sound fantastic, with just a delicate touch of reverb on Revenant's mid-high barking rasp. The bass thuds along under the riff, with a fat rounded tone that thickens up the bottom end of the mix suitably rather than opting for a more crisp, dirty tone that would've made more sense had the bass been given a more centrally melodic role.

The songwriting on The Acheronian Worship is consistently good. Riffs flow at a satisfying rate, perfectly suiting the dark romanticism of the songs. Rather than attempting adventurousness, these guys instead go for maximum emotional weight. While this gives the riffs a certain inescapable predictability, it's the sort that's immensely satisfying rather than dull; every new hook is gripping and taps directly into whatever it is in our brains that made the triumphs of the second wave so inspirational to so many of us. That said, while every single tune here has a number of passages that bring a smile to my face, there weren't any moments that really sent chills up my spine in the way that my very favorite black metal does. The quality of songwriting is so high, though, that I have no doubt that these guys can basically pump out material of this caliber in their sleep, so I do have my fingers crossed that they'll have stuff down the road that truly speaks to me on the deepest of levels.

The Acheronian Worship stands as one of the best black metal albums released this year that I've yet heard, and is highly recommended to anyone with any interest in triumphant-yet-melancholic melody-rich black metal with a refined sense of song and riff-craftsmanship. Definitely a band to watch.