The new album by the vampyric black metal entity known as Akasha is a chaotic study in misanthropic musical nihilism. Following the excellent Consuming the Soul EP from last year, main-man Leech finds method in madness with this new full-length of abrasive and semi-melodic blackness that takes his spiritual and mental vampyrism a step further.
From the start, the fact that intro track “Portal Through Forgotten Coffins” is actually interesting and not begging for a skip (like a lot of intros these days) speaks a good deal for the worth of this release. It’s a full band track, complete with serpentine screams and a jangling, haunting thematic melody. It leads perfectly onward to the first proper song, the doubly titular “Akasha (Canticles of the Sepulchral Deity),” which rips us from our own reality and into the violent proceedings with high levels of distortion and absolutely venomous vocals. Once the blasting drums shift into a driving, one-two punch, we’re served dissonant, shimmering riffs atop the fuzz-wall. One is reminded of Negative Plane if they were cutting heads with mid-era Cultes des Ghoules.
Often, the chaotic feel of the album is chopped into digestible bites, creating a sequence of riffs showing just how much method is within these songs. A separation between clean and distorted guitars is often utilized, one on top of the other, to create a layer of oddly magnificent emotion aside the violence. The production emphasizes the dynamics, keeping it just harsh enough, but with a vivid sheen. Take for example “Enthroned In Catacombs,” which halfway through the verses features a crisp/clean lead theme descending above its forward, galloping main riff. We get a sort of chorus cadence, then more riffs. Later in the track, the structure is broken for a quick blasting freakout, then back to the theme, and finally to more sporadic riffs. It’s engrossing stuff.
Another standout aspect of the mix is the audible, pulsing bass, which keeps up nicely with even the tremolo sections. Often it finds itself branching into interesting counter-melodies with its use of extended fills, further accentuating the already pronounced riffs. With the duality between dissonance and melody found herein, this works as an ornamental factor not heard in a lot of black metal. Yet all this craftsmanship does not serve to spit-shine the sound too much. The open hi-hat, continual crashes, and high-end snare bring that “treble rebel” staple we all know in black metal, yet in a way that blends with the other instruments to create an abrasive wall. At times the screams presented here border on mania – one can just imagine tears of rage welling in Leech’s eyes as some of the lines end in an angry moan or gasp. There’s a lot of feeling put into this, and it begins to seep into your own emotions as your listening goes on.
There’s “filler” on Canticles, but not in the detrimental sense. “Bornless” is an eerie little addition to the tracklist with its druidic chanting. And some riffs in the songs might recall others, but another left-turn always comes along to crush our comfort. There are doomier, more subdued times to be had, like the plodding “Psychic Fog, Draconian Paroxysm,” which serve as a good palette-cleanser from the usual lunacy. The end of this track is particularly haunting. There’s some evidence of outside-genre influence, too as final track “Worship At The Threshold Of Her Womb” even kicks into full-on traditional metal mid-song, ending with enchanting atmospheric arpeggios.
Bonus track “Moon As Blood” ends up coming off like a weird desert campfire song at first, with gruff spoken-word, then kicking back into the more standard black metal structure, continuing the maniacal diversity further. Where I’d normally find some faults, there really aren’t any that I can find on Canticles Of The Sepulchral Deity, as it stands already to be one of my favorite releases of the year. Topping it off, the whole thing is encompassed exquisitely by the menacing cover artwork of underground black metal icon Wrest, which seems to fit the mood perfectly, completing a bloody and cerebral package for the nocturnal beasts among us who value good black metal.