The first thought that came into my head upon by first play of Antichrist was: “Idiots” Yes, for all their technical mastery Akercocke have done what I consider to be the most idiotic thing that can be done with any album, and that is to begin the CD with an ‘intro’ type track that has zero musical integrity. Black Messiah is nothing but just under a minute of noise. In most cases I consider intro tracks to be pointless anyway (most of the time they were be better as part of the first proper song) but this just ridiculous. It’s like Akercocke were trying to give the skip button a meaning for its existence. This is by far one of the worst intro tracks I’ve ever heard. An acoustic instrumental would have worked well here especially as a lead-into Summon the Antichrist. But no, we get noise. As it goes this does make for an okay build up to Summon the Antichrist, but all in all this is just worthless and a very bad way to set my first impressions of the album.
Thankfully the album’s proper songs offer up more than enough redeeming factors for Black Messiah to be looked over as a stupid mistake. There’s plenty of variety on offer since Akercocke’s music is heavily progressive with much alternating between heavy and light sections and with the odd alternate music style thrown in for good measure (The Dark Inside has a section that sounds like new wave music for example). There’s a mix of harsh growls and clean vocals too, which is actually my second (and final) major complaint about Antichrist. It’s the growls that disappoint me. I’m not adverse to really brutal growling but I do like to at least hear what most of the lyrics are without having to follow the booklet and with Jason Mendonca you cannot hear a word that he’s going on about when he growls. In fact I struggle even when reading the lyrics out of the CD booklet. While this isn’t something that will greatly affect the impact of the music, since this sort of vocal is typically used like it were another instrument, it just doesn't sit quite right with me.
Song highlights from Antichrist are Axiom, which features a strong mix of acoustics (surprisingly with a blast beat drum pattern over the top, which even more surprisingly actually works really well) and heavy riffs and a great melodic solo section from Matt Wilcock. My Apterous Angel is another song that mixes acoustics and heavy riffs but with some sound effects of crows cawing that brings to mind a deserted ruin (probably of a church) on a bleak day. Given the album’s lyrical theme the effect really fit’s the mood of the story. Easily the best song though is The Dark Inside, which is one of the most progressive on Antichrist, mainly due to the new wave section that I mentioned earlier. It’s actually quite a surprise when it turns up but it does work really well for the song and Mendonca’s vocals are the best heard on the whole CD. The lyrics over the new wave section are even catchy and it is possible to sing along to it. Then the extreme black/death metal hits again with a great solo section from Jason.
Elsewhere Antichrist offers a bit of a mixed bag due to the fact that not every song on here is likely to meet approval with everyone who listeners to it. Many are so vastly different that people could like Summon the Antichrist, but not Epode or Distant Fires Reflect the Eyes of Satan. I’ll explain how the album varies. The Promise features only spoken word vocals and really does give a feeling that the band are trying to seduce you to partake in a Satanic ritual. That is one thing that Akercocke do really well with Antichrist. It is possible to form images in your mind about what is happening in the story. Distant Fires Reflect the Eyes of Satan is an instrumental and sounds quite random in the context of what the band are playing. First we hear some symphonic, then we get some tribal sound drums and woodwind instruments, what I think is a sitar and some chanting. It doesn’t really do the album any favours but at the same time doesn’t spoil it. Listen to it or skip it, it’s the strengths of most of the other songs that make Antichrist worth the money you pay for it. The album ends with Epode, a short acoustic piece.
Lyrical wise the album is heavily Satanic. Not that you really needed me to tell you that, just look at the CD’s title. The brutality of the actual music makes some black metal bands I know sound like Coldplay! So if the most extreme types of metal are your thing then this album is essential for you and if you are a fan of progressive metal then yes, definitely give this album a go as well.
Extra note on the limited edition: This version of the album also features two cover songs, Chapel of Ghouls by Morbid Angel and Leprosy by Death. Chapel of Ghouls is the better one of the two although I personally only know the original version of Leprosy so I have nothing to compare it with. Leprosy to say the least is a lot more brutal than the version that Death recorded but with Jason Mendonca’s voice on it, like the rest of the album, I can barely hear of word of the lyrics. It’s not bad but if you want this song you’re still going to be better off with the original, just like the majority of any cover versions. But both extra songs are worth having if you can get a copy of Antichrist with them on, since they add an extra eleven minutes to its total running time.
So in summary yes, this is an exceptional release from a band who are clearly masters of their trade, however Antichrist is far from perfect. But I’d say that seven of the ten songs on the regular edition are worth having (9 of 12 for the limited edition).