Red Stream, 2000
This album surprised me...what happened to this band? Whereas the other two Judas Iscariot albums that I own ('Heaven in Flames' and 'Of Great Eternity') seemed to be mainly illustrating Akhenaten's conflict between 'traditional' black metal and the compositional experimentation he obviously wanted to undertake, this record does away with the trepidation or instrumental hesitation that I hear on those earlier releases and instead decides to go straight for the listener's throat with a strong sense of conviction and determination. Between 'Heaven in Flames' and this record Akhenaten must have reached something of a crisis point in his career, as the music here demonstrates a mastery of tone and obscure melodicism that was only hinted at before - it's as if the man went through a trial by fire, and emerged whole and victorious on the other side. Perhaps it is only his musical 'maturity' that I am feeling here, the ease with which he now approaches composition. Perhaps it is the sound of a reconciliation he had with his own aims within the genre. I can not be sure. But I am sure of one thing: this is not the Judas Iscariot that I knew from earlier recordings...
The first two songs, 'Descent to the Abyss' and 'Benevolent Whore, Dethroned for Eternity', are, quite literally, a manifesto of black metal conviction - they rage straight ahead with an immensely grim fury and a new-found sense of purpose. I believe they are the fastest, most scathing, and most brutal Judas Iscariot songs I have ever heard. The melodies are complex and stirringly chromatic, the riffing is expert, the song structures are well-constucted and ruthlessly efficient, and the pace is relentless. The guitar playing has improved tremendously, both in the use/range of abstract or direct tones and the references reached for. It is simply on another level now. The drumming (courtesy of session hammer 'Cryptic Winter') is completely over the top - a pitiless, incessant barrage of necro gunfire, all snare and cymbals. Beautifully chaotic - and beautifully recorded, I might add.
Having said that, and having treated the two songs that will probably gain the most attention on this release, I will now move to what is, for me, the most impressive song. This is the third track, 'Journey Through Visions of War'. Beginning with an eloquent chiming riff, echoing the alarms and klaxons of battle - and also mourning the dead symbolically with its downturned melancholy - this piece presents for the listener what can only be described as some of Akhenaten's most accomplished composing to date. There are at least two exquisite minor chord/atonal riffs in here which are ferociously evocative and brightly original. Moving in an easy, relaxed fashion through traditional black metal structures and the eloquent phrasing and re-phrasing of essential melodies as the tempo slowly increases, we move with the song through a set of segments that build upon each other until the climax is reached...suddenly the song shifts focus...and all of the energy of the preceding requiem-riffs are released in a final lightspeed evisceration. As I said above, this song displays a great deal of experience with the subtleties of black metal structures or the 'traditional' methods of riffing and variation - a level of experience that Ahkenaten has earned, now, through years of experimentation and study.
Do I need to say anything more? This is a very interesting collection of songs...I only hope that Akhenaten builds on the ideas displayed here when he is writing the next album, or at the very least takes what he has learned from the writing/recording process of this release to further his compositions. This is an expertly planned and played example of all out black metal war, a lethal, powerful record...I am impressed.