“There are few things in this world as pleasant as raw black metal.” What foolish KenWords those were. I was young then, impressionable and naive. Akantha has since extinguished the innocent light from my eyes. In my newfound wisdom, I now believe that raw black metal is one of the ugliest things in this world. Or more specifically, I believe Akantha‘s idea of raw black metal is one of the ugliest things in this world. Too bad the Greek duo couldn’t bring that idea to fruition on their sophomore effort, Baptism in Psychical Artifacts.
In an alternate universe where the promo material that came with Baptism in Psychical Artifacts was accurate, Akantha plays “old school orthodox black metal” so trve it makes Varg quiver in his boots. Unfortunately, in the real world the band merely play raw black metal that, while definitely linked to the Norwegian school in terms of sound, neither moves nor threatens. The record drowns in blast beats, raspy croaks, and tremolos aplenty. There are no other notable sonic attributes relevant to Akantha‘s sound.
This sentiment also holds true when discussing the finer points of songwriting. From opener “Catharsis from Katura and Anathema” to closer “Lethargy,” every cut follows the same formula. Blast the heck out of the drumset, tremolo the heck out of the strings/fingers, croak the heck out of the vocal cords. Rinse and repeat until near the middle of the track (“The Monotheistic Pharoah”). Introduce a new, but never interesting, melody and kill the song after this tacked-on bridge with overextended instrumental passages (“Heroic”). Maybe throw in one or two lines of vocals in that final stretch, just in case (“Thesis and Antithesis”). Multi-instrumentalist (in this case bass, vocals, and guitars) Athanasios and drummer S. adhere to this formula without deviation, producing an utterly colorless record in the process.
It would be a shame, then, if Baptism in Psychical Artifacts also lacked the low-fi character that helped make so many black metal albums from the early nineties feel dangerous. Lo and behold, the sound here is appropriately old school but once again devoid of personality. The drums especially lack punch, with abrasive cymbals and a cardboard snare. From a broader perspective, Akantha finished their sophomore album in such a way that none of the instruments come forward when they need to, nor do any one of the instruments step back far enough to let another take center stage. Between that and the already dull songcraft, I struggled to find any excitement whatsoever in the material on hand.
I am nevertheless thankful that Athanasios and S. can at least play their instruments well. S., in particular, keeps time like German clockwork, never straying from his assigned time signature no matter how long he blasts—a characteristic within this style of drumming that goes unnoticed far too often when executed well. Athanasios, too, has a knack for timing. For him, this comes in handy when dropping the next chord and picking the next lead, always at the perfect juncture. The material offered may not exude technicality or complexity, but in its entirety, the performance is commendable for its professionalism.
Sadly, the abilities of the performers do not make up for the lack of oomph in the songwriting. At no point during my time with Akantha did I feel Baptism in Psychical Artifacts was going anywhere, nor did I experience an urge to recommend it to anyone else. In fact, I was more inclined to warn others away from it. Such a strict adhesion to the ways of the orthodox black metal scene may be a selling point for some, but not for me. By this point in the genre’s history, I expect new artists to invigorate their material with style and distinction. Akantha did not.