Axis of Metal Review - Nov 2012

Axis of Metal Reivew - Nov 2012

Some reviews are naturally more difficult to write than others. Usually, the problems emerge when considering the extremes of the spectrum; in trying to convey a strong enough tone to try and emphasise your point. Other times there doesn’t seem like there’s an awful lot to say, the work doing little of note to really comment on. This album, however, falls under that rare and third kind of difficulty; the knowledge that you’re about to write a less than favourable review for a band that has clearly spent a lot of time working on a concept while consequentially, feeling like an absolute dick in the process. There is unquestionably promise in their work, littered with passages that reek of a band performing above and beyond what you’d expect of such a pretentious sounding album title and quite frankly dreadful cover art (whoever designed this cover should never be allowed near them again), constantly detracted by those elements that undermine their accomplishments.

The easiest way to describe what to expect from this is perhaps “Diablo Metal,” but not from the perspective of the protagonist but of the minions that dwell deep within the caverns of the church at the edge of town. For those familiar with the classic side-scrolling RPG and the soundtrack from it, you perhaps already have an idea of what to expect, but for the benefit of the rest allow me to elaborate further. Old Corpse Road play an almost perfect blend of no-nonsense Black/Folk metal; the atmosphere, once again, pivotal in connecting the two differing styles; the lengthy title going quite some way in describing precisely what is to be expected. There is an almost classic Victorian sense of gothic horror to the proceedings; haunting church organs and keyboard lines match the dark acoustic folk guitars, setting the scene for the misty landscape in which our demons dwell; deep toned, spoken passages narrating the tale with an almost ‘Edgar Allen Poe’ air of poetry to them. Blackened tremolo riffs and frantic guitars raise the tempo and heighten the tension in our tale of terror, demonic growls emerging from every direction, only serving to perpetuate the unholy abyss you find yourself privy to.

At least, that is what the vocals I assume were intending to do, but it is here where the music’s quality really takes a nosedive in the worst possible way. All the five musicians are given titles such as “The Bearer” and “The Wanderer” to further immerse themselves in the music (perhaps more apt titles could have been used, seeing as they seem to have no bearing on their performances whatsoever and so largely feel pointless, but there we are) and each contribute their own line of vocals. There are choral chants, which they all perform, that possibly are the most effective; else individually, they perform spoken narrated passages, with a deep growl and two high pitched barks (I can’t tell what the fifth vocalist does), and not a single one should be allowed to do more than backing work. There is no versatility to them at all; the narrator, rather than showing a sense of power and slowly allowing his lines to unfurl from his lips, sometimes finds himself speaking so quickly that it borders on a rap (which is actually surprisingly catchy at times). The gutturals are impossible to discern the lyrics from – which is rather a problem when they intend to be telling a tale – and at their worst, the dual high-pitched barks remind me of the backing vocals from that Gremlins 2 song. Yet, as harsh as all this sounds, they aren’t incapable, they simply aren’t strong enough to take on board the duties of a lead vocalist. It feels as though there’s a gaping hole in the composition; that they’ve told a tale filled with mythical demons but forgotten to include a human protagonist to explore it, taking the lead whilst the narrator introduces the tales and the demons growl in the shadows.

There is, in a sense, only really five tracks that make up the album; five different tales, with five extended instrumentals that constantly set up the atmosphere in preparation for the tracks ahead. Often happy to take more than 3 minutes themselves, the concern that they would overstay their welcome was ultimately unwarranted. The compositions aren’t complex by a long shot, but almost minimalist and precise in what they wanted to convey, acting as both a contrast to the far more black inspired ‘main’ tracks – often more content to use folk interludes rather than blend the two in a more overt manner – and act as a sort of propulsion, giving the track context and momentum to expand upon. They haven’t just taken “folk-influences” in composing their songs, but taken the genre in its entirety, telling tales of folklore and times past. It at times seems to reach for the level of storytelling that Omnia recently mesmerised me with; not just content in creating a sense of atmosphere but embarking the listener on a journey. Sadly, all too often, there seems to a be disconnect between the lyrics and the atmosphere – one doesn’t seem to adequately reflect the other, the tales never quite taking the centre stage as they should, only occasionally throwing in a quick section to remind people what they’re singing about. Good musicians seem to be emerging ever more frequently, but the ability to tell a story has never found itself more wanting. They have the ability to do something few others are capable of; the atmosphere is there, it’s just in clearing that last hurdle that they stumble.

Highlights: The Buried Moon, Crier of Claiffe