Originally written by Michael Roberts.
That The Axis of Perdition have gone down this particular path isn’t all that surprising. After the cyber-black metal blitzkrieg of The Ichneumon Method, this British act has become steadily more abstract, with their increasingly cinematic treatment of urban decay and horror reaching amazing heights on 2005’s Deleted Scenes from the Transition Hospital. And now comes Urfe, essentially an audio book broken up into two forty-five minute volumes, “Grief of the Unclean” and “The Great Unwashed.” Narrated by British thespian Leslie Simpson (Dog Soldiers, The Descent), Urfe is the story of the titular character who, after being tempted by a mysterious letter, embarks on a hellish journey into the farthest outreaches of the desolate cesspit that is Locus Eyrie. Urfe’s guide in this nightmarish quest is the entity known as Pylon, a mystical being who leads our protagonist down a seemingly bottomless pit of mental, physical and emotional horrors. Will Urfe survive? Will his soul be saved? The only way of knowing is to take the journey with him.
In terms of subject matter, Urfe is very much The Axis of Perdition, and seems like the logical follow-up to Deleted Scenes… Like that album, Urfe is all about one character’s journey into terror, madness and depravity in a hell-like realm just beyond the cusp of our world. In that sense, Urfe is worth experiencing, as it’s certainly an interesting tale with plenty of bizarre and disturbing imagery that’s bound to raise one’s eyebrows at least a few times. But, it all comes down to execution. You’ll need to ask yourself whether or not you’re prepared to sit through ninety minutes of someone talking with plenty of spooky ambience and only the briefest amount of actual music as respite. Because unfortunately, despite all the enthusiasm and reverence one could easily bring to it, as a listening experience Urfe is only mildly successful.
No matter how sound the concept, Urfe simply doesn’t have the substance to justify its ninety-minute runtime. Had it been boiled down to forty-five minutes, an hour at most or better yet as one disc of spoken word and the other with music it could have been far more effective, not to mention palatable. Leslie Simpson acquits himself well, and does his best with the material at hand, but without the aid of real songs to break things up more often the incessant narration becomes tiresome. Also, the storytelling is frequently buried under the too loud cacophony of sound effects, instrumentation and noise. But perhaps the biggest flaw with Urfe is that everything is spelt out too obviously. The sexually explicit passages in “Grief of the Unclean V” for example are more likely to induce chuckling than trembling. Nothing matches the malevolence of those ambient segues on Deleted Scenes… which only had titles to go by leaving the rest to your imagination, and were far more effective and frightening as a result.
When the metal finally kicks in at the three-quarter mark (“The Great Unwashed II”, “III” and “IV”) it’s The Axis of Perdition in all their lurching, oppressive glory, and will have you pondering what might have been had it been utilized more. As it is, the metal component is so minimal that its inclusion is almost superfluous. Urfe could only have been born out of The Axis of Perdition’s unique aesthetic, and in that regard is worth hearing at least once (but realistically you’ll require two or three listens just to make heads or tails of it). Your enjoyment of this album will depend greatly on how much you’re willing to go along with the band’s very self-indulgent approach here. Reactions to this will differ wildly, but one thing is certain – you won’t hear anything else like Urfe this year.