The past couple of years have been good to Akercocke fans. Though that entity is sadly dead and buried, the magnificent Voices emerged from its grave, releasing an excellent debut in 2013 as well as last year’s near-masterpiece London. But Voices wasn’t the only thing to slither from Akercocke‘s rotten cadaver: The Antichrist Imperium dropped like a leprous limb1 from Akercocke‘s dying body when guitarist Matt Wilcox (also formerly of The Berzerker) left in 2010.
Five years later and Matt, along with fellow former Akercocke/current Voices sticksman David Gray, have finally found the time to record The Antichrist Imperium‘s much anticipated debut. With Voices‘ Sam Loynes and former The Berzerker bassist/growler Sam Bean lending their vocal talents, they certainly have the pedigree to produce something special. Furthermore, the press release suggests that The Antichrist Imperium is largely made up of ideas that were intended for the sixth Akercocke album that sadly never saw the light of day. Could this be the Akercocke record we’ve all been waiting for?
The violent blackened death metal that kicks off opener “Elegy” is an encouraging start, with riffs that Akercocke might have come up with after gorging on a sonic feast of Behemoth and Absu. It’s not long before this aggression gives way to pained clean vocals and trippy guitars of the sort Akercocke experimented so well with on their later records. A long, well-managed build-up finally comes to an unexpectedly triumphant climax, which is the first real divergence from the standard Akercocke template and works very well, though the incongruently corny chord progressions and guitar noodling that end the song are not quite so welcome.
“Elegy” is representative of the remainder of the record: while the corpse of Akercocke casts a long shadow over proceedings, The Antichrist Imperium mix in several new influences to create a very diverse album. Each track has a slightly different blend of styles alongside the Akercocke base, whether it’s the Hate Eternal-esque death metal of “Desecrated Remains,” the dissonant Arkhon Infaustus style ending to “The Stiffening of Death,” The Berzerker riffing that starts “Silhouette and Flame” or the straightforward Vital Remains/Morbid Angel brutality on “Kill for Satan.” A few of the rare melodic moments bring to mind Dark Tranquility, while some quieter sections, like the closing track’s gorgeous midriff, are faintly Opethian. This diversity, along with the first-class riff writing and excellent variety of clean and harsh vocals make for an engaging listen from start to finish.
Unfortunately, two weaknesses hold this album back from greatness. The less serious flaw concerns Wilcox’s frequent forays into fretboard-fapping. He’s a very accomplished player, but his solos are prone to sounding rather like technical exercises. Some of the accompanying riffs are also uninspired, or even cheesy as on “Elegy” or “The Spiritual Rapist,” and occasionally the solo is dragged out seemingly to fill time rather than because it deserves to be. The more serious complaint is that, while the riffs are top-notch, the song construction is not. The arrangements are often quite haphazard, and several times it felt like song segments ended either too rapidly or not rapidly enough. “The Stiffening of Death” even sounds like two quite unrelated songs stuck together.
These imperfections prevent The Antichrist Imperium from reaching the giddy heights Akercocke managed, but this is still a very entertaining record. The performances are nearly-perfect, the production monstrous, and while the songwriting needs work, the diversity and quality of the riffs will keep you coming back for more. Also, Satan.