I’ll be the first to admit I’ve talked a lot of shit about Urfe since its release two years ago. But, if we’re being honest, I’ve got to fold and give it up as a brave move from this gloriously seasickness-inducing band, and one that made for an engrossing listen if one actually took the time to sit, quietly, and listen. But the name The Axis of Perdition had by then become the mark of such unerring quality that even an ardent fan as myself couldn’t help but be disappointed that, given the almost complete lack of metallic bombast, these lads hadn’t chosen to release Urfe under a different name. (What about Pulsefear, eh?) It is thus with great heaving sighs of relief that I invite you to breathe out your own worries, friend, because the dark ambient, Lovecraftian-28-Days-Later-audiobook vibe is almost entirely vanished from Tenements (Of The Anointed Flesh), leaving behind the same pitch-black core of rotting industrialism and warp-speed vitriol we all know and fear cannot escape love.
Tenements is probably closest in sound and style to The Axis’s debut, The Ichneumon Method. However, unlike that album’s revelry in absolute sonic overload and destruction, Tenements pulls back on the intensity ever so slightly and cleans up the production enough to allow all constituent pieces to work their malign magic. The album as a whole has a very nice arc to it, with the first half primarily devoted to wreaking complete and utter devastation on all and sundry within its reach, while the second half opens up even more, from the slow burn of “Changer” to the totally fucked noise of “Disintegration” to the actually rather lovely “Ordained.” As always, however, Tenements succeeds through pure overwhelming force, beating the listener into a state of slack-jawed submission as it pours in the poisons through the porches of the ears.
Uneasy string stabs flutter like a killer behind the curtain in “Unveiled,” while surprisingly comprehensible vocals inhabit some of the most open metallic spaces this band has yet spewed forth. The ear catches random snippets of lyrics, “Unable to return to the womb of unconsciousness,” and so forth. And yet, even as the mind follows what it thinks is a straightforward rhythm, the guitars explode blackened fireworks, like the rotten tendrils of Blut Aus Nord’s MoRT played at triple time, while a renegade drum shouts its own rhythm down a sewer drain. “The Flesh Spiral” features a disorienting array of overlapping voices, barking out dance steps at some mechanized bacchanal of the damned, while “Sigils and Portents” seems to take a cue from countrymen in depravity Anaal Nathrakh, injecting some of the bold clean singing that The Axis’s Brooke Johnson lent to the most recent Void Of Silence album.
“Dark Red Other” revisits the band’s dark ambient obsession, but does so in a mercifully brief and therefore highly effective mid-album context. The most nightmarish passages of the album are saved for the latter half of “Disintegration,” which stutters and tears itself entirely to shreds while one’s mind tries desperately to keep its bearings. “Ordained” is yet another surprise, essentially a clean-voiced, morning-sun-gently-peering-over-the-shoulders-of-ice-battered-mountains ballad. Its melodic tremolo swells and subtle backing synths call to mind the naturalistic beauty of much of the contemporary romantic black metal movement, which cuts a bold (and, I suspect, intentional) contrast to the overdriven mechanical flood with which The Axis has made its name. A robot learns to play Chopin; an angular pixelated orchid sits amidst blades of grass formed by stacks of ones and zeroes beside a placid lake of mercury; the earth is not a cold dead place.
While writing this review, a strange thing kept happening: I kept wanting to say something to the effect of, “Tenements is much more straightforward than previous Axis albums.” Let’s think about that for a second. By what kind of deranged mind is this level of synapse-melting black/industrial noise interpretable as straightforward or soothing? Well, friends, apparently by my kind of deranged mind. And maybe, just maybe, by yours, too. Setting aside for the moment the potential level of depravity in your brain and mine, if you were similarly thrown off by Urfe, now’s a wonderful time to rejoin the Axis of Perdition fold. I can’t wait to hear where these cosmonauts of the future collapse of civilization journey to next.