Infernal War are a pissed-off bunch. Formed in 1997, the Polish blackened-death quintet’s sole two full-lengths – 2005’s Terrorfront and 2007’s Redesekration – are essentially blastbeat-fueled blitzkriegs against Judeo-Christianity, and are probably the two angriest and most hate-filled albums ever recorded. First hearing them six years ago while exploring ‘assault-style’ black metal, I was captivated. The sound? Imagine Impaled Nazarene covering Panzer Division Marduk inside of a beat-up van that’s then graffitied with hate speech, doused in kerosene, lit on fire, and sent careening into St. Peter’s Basilica. Drummer Stormblast’s grindcore-esque blasting was furious (I used to picture him hitting skulls instead of cymbals); guitarists Zyklon and Truimphator seemed to have an endless supply of violent staccato riffs that sounded like thrash progressions roasted in the 10th circle of hell; and vocalist ‘Herr Warcrimer’ (because fuck subtlety) scream-shouted with such sheer hate that it was almost disturbing in its conviction and apparent authenticity.
I didn’t share their irate sentiments, but I loved the music. Unfortunately, a new album never came. After 2009’s excellent Conflagrator EP and a 2010 split with Kriegsmachine, Warcrimer and Zyklon shifted focus to spiritual counterpart Voidhanger, with Infernal War left silent. Five years later, a third full-length Axiom has finally arrived – does it measure up?
In a word: abso-fucking-lutely. Everything is back in top form: the incendiary blastbeats, the maniacal-yet-intelligible vocals, and the explosive, frenzied riffwork that recalls a choppier version of that found in Behemoth’s Demigod. One need only listen to the barrage of twisted fretwork in opener “Coronation” or the sickeningly melodic and frantic intervals of early highlight “Paradygmat” to know that time has quelled none of their rage nor dulled their chops. In fact, the shouts of “Zero tolerance!” and “Mass killing spree!” over piercing, high-register notes in “Militant Hate Church” show the band as angry as ever, with Warcrimer screaming like he’s bound in a straitjacket. Even the solos sound violent: wild yet faintly melodic, the sharp bending notes conjure images of neighing horses being slaughtered with a flamethrower.
Axiom’s real strength, however, isn’t how it rekindles the old sound – it’s how it refines that sound. While Terrorfront’s and Redesekration’s relentless blasting sometimes left one numb, Axiom avoids this with novel ideas and varied tempos. See again “Coronation,” which breaks into simple mid-paced chord bashing in its chorus and a catchy thrash beat in its bridge, or “Into Dead Soil,” which halts abruptly for a triumphant mid-song victory march, the sheer power and might of which are surpassed only by the girth of my resulting erection. Likewise, “Eater of Hope” features menacing tension-building chugs, closer “Axiom” feels more like early Morbid Angel than Marduk, and blackened clean picking throughout the record provide smidges of welcome atmosphere.
Vocally, Warcrimer once again manages the impossible for the genre, syncing his patterns with the guitars to create (gasp!) actual hooks. “No Forgiveness” punctuates its wall-of-iron riff with cries of “Chaos reigns!” over a winding progression, while “Nihil Prayer” works the repeated vocal motif “I believe…” into its scorching chords. But the greatest moment comes in “Camp 22,” which features the song title chanted over a catchy-as-hell riff (sadly, my water cooler impersonations of this have made me the pariah of my workplace).
Complaints? I guess the guitar tone could be a little sharper, and – like previous records – the middle tends to sag, with “Transfigure” and its neighboring tracks being largely forgettable. The crisp and modern production is a double-edged sword: while things are clear and powerful, the overall sound feels more calculated and less unhinged than before. And while the DR of 6 suits the music’s ‘in-your-face’ nature, it still makes for a somewhat fatiguing 42 minutes, especially considering the album’s relentless aggression.
Quibbles aside, Infernal War were correct in proclaiming Axiom their “crowning achievement” – the songwriting is their best yet, the music has lost none of its vitriol, and – the cherry on top – the lyrics have diversified beyond war and anti-Christian themes, expanding to the personal and philosophical. It culminates in the final minutes of the closing title track. As guest vocalist M. (Mgla) joins in reciting a sick limerick-style verse, Warcrimer reflects on the personal desolation that his militant nihilism has caused him, before concluding with shouted resignation: “But it’s the darkness and bitter hatred that keeps me alive!” If that clicks with you whatsoever, there’s all the recommendation you need.