2004, Earache Records
+ | Once again, an increase in production values, and a definite overall sound improvement over their last album and (especially) the one before it. Also, a further coalescence of style identity, a concentration on accentuating their strengths, a measured and deliberate refraining from attempting overtly experimental passages. What does this mean? Akercocke are finally beginning to get comfortable within their own skins, or at least that is what we are being shown here - or what we are supposed to believe.
- | Aside from one song, the third, "Leviathan", what we have here are song fragments masquerading under the disguise of individual tracks or songs with their own identity. Song fragments are extended by the use of complementing transition riffs to the point where they sometimes achieve the length of actual songs, but they don't have any real stylistic coherence or individual integrity of their own.
"Leviathan" is a single entity and has its own identity, a beginning and an end. It is, in itself, both a display of almost every single musical technique this band is capable of (seriously, just go through this song on your own and track how many different ideas they are tracing in seven minutes) and a very good song in its own right. It makes the album.
The other songs often appear to just be hasty constructions, cobbled together out of leftover riffs, things the band had lying around in notebooks or on the rehearsal room floor. Outside of one song, Akercocke still do not have a strong enough riff identity to carry their filler material, but rather try to assemble their secondary identity (outside of the "main" songs) or sound out of the cast-off elements of other bands: the Voivod "dissonance", the dual black and death metal vocals, the mock-somber gothic keyboards and cartoonish Satanism, etc. There is a vast difference on this album between the songs they obviously put a lot of work into and the others that they seem to have just assembled to round out the running time. If every song was as good as "Leviathan", this would be an instant classic album, something to definitely play over and over.
Having said that, there are a lot of really nicely written, evocative sections scattered throughout the rest of the album that are worth listening to...one just wishes these individual segments were surrounded by something more substantial.
Also worth noting is the fact that while Akercocke tried to expand the vocal presence on this album, they did it mainly by adding segments of clean vocals or other vocal styles (a dramatic speaking voice, a melodic singing voice in soaring choruses) instead of expanding and increasing the range of the vocal forms already employed. Instead of two monotonous vocal styles, then, we now have three or four. I would rather see the range of the death and black metal screams expanded - I know this is difficult, but...it would greatly improve the emotive power of these songs.
Akercocke's songs continue to be split into warring sections of black vs. death metal, defined by the contrasting riffing styles and the vocal approach laid over them, and I know they consider this to be part of their "signature style", but I question at this point the inflexibility of this technique. It often just sounds like a switch is flipped somewhere and Akercocke decide to go into a "death metal section" for reasons that might or might not make sense in the architecture of the song itself - sacrificing a song's integrity, once again, to stylistic concerns. The isolated clean vocals, although skilled (when compared to most "extreme metal" vocalists' attempts at the same), appear mainly over clumsy keyboard passages and song segments that unsuccessfully mimic or evoke Dead Can Dance, or rather...the awkward first attempts at a style that Dead Can Dance abandoned early in their career. The pop inflections in the vocals are mildly disturbing, especially as they align themselves with obvious pop tendencies in the keyboard tones.
Overall: I would like to see Akercocke concentrate even more on songwriting - but what do I know? In my opinion, they are almost at the point where their band's identity can be an asset in the writing process, and not a stylistic burden that confuses and muddies the ideas being put forth in the songs...or rather, song segments.