It seems to me that there are really only two doors that need to be sought in the hunt for black metal of real quality. One leads to a well whose mechanism is complex and unconventional. But, with patience and a deft touch, it reveals a spring of challenging and creative potential. The other leads to a charred room whose blackened walls contain a particularly fecal Mark Z, resplendent in bullet belt and lobbing liberal handfuls of sickle cell anemia with feral abandon. Greece’s Akrotheism predominantly stand in the former, but somehow manage to channel a little of both. Their second album The Law of Seven Deaths is a dissonant and cavernous affair, but never one that wants for immersive songwriting. No matter how willing you may be, if your wallet is unprepared in the face of yet another great black metal release in 2019, then I’ve got bad news. It’s about to get much worse before it gets better.
The Law of Seven Deaths is an often suffocating listen. Akrotheism are adept practitioners of dissonance and discord but, somewhere along the line, they retain just enough traditionalism to focus the chaos. “Typhonian Serpents” and “Manifesting Tartarus” bleed with the kind of ravenous rhythms that wouldn’t be out of place on a Plebian Grandstand record. Yet the songs also naturally segue into very immediate riffing. Minute trills of subverted melody prick the ears before plunging back down the rabbit hole. Like a predator possessed of the perfect bait. “Typhonian Serpents” is incredibly distinct. Fevered riffs often give way to slower and notably elegiac sequences. Between the weft and warp of the cacophonous verses, a change in tempo waits just around the corner to lure you in. It’s far more memorable than it has any right to be, which is where the album’s golgothic magic truly lies.
While the album is certainly black metal at its core, it never shies from a little genre splicing. Ulcerate‘s angular abominations whisper on Naos’ guitar strings. This is never more evident than on “Desmotropia.” The song trades apexes of warped tremolos for a bridge of pernicious peels that grotesquely rise and fall, damning and elevating in equal measure. Vocalist Aeon is instrumental in permitting The Law of Seven Deaths its sense of self. He alternates between a mid-range blackened growl and a charismatic approximation of Tom Fisher’s modern style. These stentorian narratives go a long way in engineering the record’s grand atmosphere. Unfortunately, so does its bloated run time. At just under an hour, it’s increasingly hard to ignore that The Law of Seven Deaths should really be Five. “Skeptomorphes (The Origin of I)” is the album’s real closer. It’s sharp and vast in nature with a shamanic verve. But, for some reason, it’s book-ended by two grossly indulgent and unnecessary instrumentals. Both are full of sample-laden “evocative” ambient sounds. I would have much preferred another full track with an outro stitched on if need be or, simply, a more concise album.
Akrotheism have opted for an interesting production. When drummer Tho instigates opener “Typhonian Serpents” with a volley of blast beats, they don’t impact as expected. Rather, they billow in on the same level as Aeon’s vocals. This grants the material a smothering quality, which provides a churning undercurrent for the guitars to perform over. This feels like an active creative choice. Sadly, it also subtracts a little from Tho’s ability, who is actually a very skillful player. It does, however, strike the perfect balance to accentuate Aeon’s subterranean tones, whose voice sounds more and more like an invocation as the album transpires.
Dissonance in extreme metal is hardly new, but there are still a multitude of bands who seem to think that it’s a viable substitute for song craft. The Law of Seven Deaths is an impressive amalgamation of both worlds. There are plenty of viscera-splattered hooks strewn about the blackened waters Akrotheism have so ably churned. While sometimes their vision somewhat exceeds the concept, it’s nothing a little streamlining won’t fix. Some more time spent on editing will work wonders for these Greeks, whose second album has firmly etched itself on to my radar. In a year already so devoted to the darkness, I strongly suggest weaving this particular incantation. After all, seven deaths are better than one.