Al-Khem-Me. Like alchemy. Get it? It’s kind of a silly pun, but upon further reflection the word does serve as a decent metaphor for what Lucifericon are trying to do here. Ancient alchemists like Nicolas Flamel attempted to turn common metals into gold;1 by the same token, this Dutch quartet attempt to take decent riffs and turn them into vast and smoldering blackened death metal songs. But whereas those olde alchemists lacked the hard science to back them up, Lucifericon are supported by vocalist and bassist Rob Reijnders, a former member of the almighty Deströyer 666 (though he was only with them for two years and never on any of their recorded output). Rounded out by Pentacle guitarist Alex Verhoeven and other members of the Dutch underground, do Lucifericon truly succeed in blackened death alchemy or are they left with broken beakers and crushed dreams?
The answer, like most things in life, lies somewhere in between. Surprisingly, Lucifericon sound less like the above bands and more like a mellower version of Impiety or Adorior. The band’s sound is undoubtedly rooted in blackened death metal, but unlike the irate pummeling you might expect, the band often drift into slower and more atmospheric territory. While there are still plenty of blast beats and frantic riffs, Lucifericon often work in evocative tremolos which—combined with the frequent solos—carry an air of mysticism that fits in well with the album’s occult theme. The only real source of relentless aggression is Reijnders, whose raspy snarl spews piss n’ vinegar like a cobra spitting venom.
It’s not a bad formula and the band strengthens it by delivering some surprisingly distinct riffs. Opener “Inside the Serpent’s ‘I'” begins with assertive guitars and swift militant drumming before settling into a slower tempo and a huge ascending tremolo riff that soon reveals itself to be the song’s focal point. Second track “Succubus of the 12th Aether” takes a similar approach by propelling itself along on its own twisted tremolo motif, introducing this idea early and returning to it frequently throughout its five-minute runtime. Likewise “Flesh unto Void, Void unto Flesh (The Twofold Gate)” features scalding tremolos and a main staccato riff that’s sure to form a pup-tent in the pants of any Angelcorpse fan.
Sadly, these distinct riffs also serve as Lucifericon’s Achilles’ heel, as the band seems to love them a little too much. It’s great to have a main riff to hold your song together, it’s not great when you repeat that main riff well beyond its expiration point. Aforementioned “Succubus” is particularly guilty of this. By the time its main riff leaves and returns for the third or fourth time, it just sounds like the band doesn’t know what else to do with the song. An even bigger offender is closer “Sevenfold,” which features a massive progression whose potency is largely sapped when it repeats this idea for over six minutes. This doesn’t always ruin things—”Serpent’s ‘I'” would still be a worthy addition to the Mark Z. Workout Playlist, for example—but when nearly every one of these eight tracks is afflicted with the same issue, it goes beyond minor annoyance and severely inhibits one’s enjoyment of the album.
Which is a shame, because, in addition to the tight performances, the production is a great fit for the style. The guitars buzz with a fiery hum while the overall sound features both punchiness and a sense of distance; conveying a feeling of surging yet restrained chaos. Likewise, the mix of slow atmospheric tracks, like “Szin-Niaq-Sa,” and faster tracks, like the aforementioned “Flesh,” show that Lucifericon have a good ear for variety and dynamics. The band could have done a lot worse considering this is their debut, and those looking for a chiller Spearhead or a less violent Watain are sure to find something to enjoy. That said, it’s hard to get past the death-grip Lucifericon have on their main ideas or that Al-Khem-Me‘s later tracks are generally less memorable than the earlier ones. Do I seem conflicted? That’s because I am. Just like those ancient alchemists, I wished Al-Khem-Me could have become gold before me, but instead all I’m left with is a fistful of common metal.