Akercocke is one of the few elite metal bands with an instantly recognizable sound. Over the years, its blackened death metal has become more experimental and diverse, culminating in 2005's amazing Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone. Prog rock, piano, and post-punk partied together amid unpredictable songwriting, all in the name of the Horned One.
On Antichrist, Akercocke reins in its songwriting – no more ten-minute opuses. Instead, the songs are more focused and individually memorable, though they don't reach the delirious heights of before. The album sequencing, too, is more cohesive, with a well-placed tribal drum interlude, and a haunting acoustic coda over synth cello plucks.
However, the band still experiments more than its peers ever do. "Axiom" begins with blastbeats and acoustic guitars (a thrilling combination), while "The Dark Inside" drops out-of-nowhere drum 'n' bass beats, complete with hoover bassline. It's not just a "let's use electronics" move, as the drums remain thankfully real, but hearing that distorted bassline muscle its way through is a shock, and a good one.
Akercocke hasn't lost its metal edge, though – far from it. "Summon the Antichrist" and "The Dark Inside" showcase the band's strengths – alternating robust blackened death with prog parts and sonorous singing. "Man Without Faith or Trust" may be the most brutal thing it's done, as drummer David Gray unleashes jawdroppingly fast blastbeats.
Trouble is, the album sounds like crap. The instruments have good separation, but high end sparkle is almost absent, and the drums are horribly over-compressed. They're plastic thuds trying to punch through digital zero, which is a shame, as Gray's drumming is phenomenal.
Whether the problem is in mixing or mastering, the sound neuters what is otherwise one of the most creative metal albums of the year. As the recent Irish BBC TV flap shows, Akercocke is one of metal's more relevant bands today. Let's just hope that tomorrow, it'll use different studio engineers.