Well not every day do I get an opportunity to review a black metal band, so it excites me when something like this gets presented to me and allows me to adjust my peripheral for a moment, and all I have is the cold hard facts to work with as presented to me.
So let’s get technical and historical for a moment. Christian black metal is often touted as unblack metal and its origins are largely a disputed one, but it’s safe to say both Australian’s Horde and Norway’s Antestor are the fathers of the genre. Obviously Unblack metal focuses on Christian themes and philosophies. A lot of this genre’s music has adopted unconventional song structures.
So here we got a band by the name of Cloth with their album, Axis Mundi off the label Nordic Mission Productions up under review. Cloth is a musical collective consisting of members of, Stronghold, DALIT and Aspiration. So these Black Metal rockers take you through a journey of the hopelessness of humankind we all feel. It confronts what has led us to where we are, and to what end we all are coming closer to – with a strong philosophical and allegorical backbone behind it all.
The sounds these thoughts create are filled with anger and melancholy combined with dark melodies, furious riffs and infuriated, regretful vocals. It’s something relevant for our times, packaged and delivered I think at the right time considering the mess the world is in at such a time as this.
To better get to know the genre, and lay down an educated summary of the album I went on an adventure of the genre, delving deep into the roots of it all. To put it blunt right from the start when listening to Axis Mundi I felt they delivered a furious onslaught of black metal with melodic overtones that are brilliantly crafted and gut wrenching. Black Metal is just something the Norwegians seem so good at and so relaxed doing. Don’t know if it’s the weather or perhaps something in their food but they seem to just have it down when dealing with writing great black metal songs.
I have to say for myself part of the success of the quality of the album for Cloth are that they are signed to the right label for this genre of music. Nordic Mission is like a lighthouse on a mountain top when dealing with this kind of music. So a great platform to get heard from, knowing both the quality and message of the album is generally going to be off the hook and solid. There are some labels out there that you just know with a particular style or genre of music that a band is going to release something good even before listening to it. It’s like a stamp of assurance you get given because of the success of the label in its speciality so whether you familiar with the band or not, the chance is its going to be good. It is a great reference platform to work from and why I was pretty excited to finally dig in and taste the quality of the meat of the product been presented.
Off that bat you get thrown back in your chair by the complex arrangements and solid musicianship. In part this death metal cross doom album has a lot of experimentalism going on that brings forth interesting arrangements. An important quality to a great album is the kind of atmosphere it brings to the playing field, and one can identify the time and effort they took on the arrangements that though aggressive and to the bone, have a very intellectual melodic delivery to them. From the first song you already get the impression that these guys are veterans of the genre and work well together, as their gifting and talents come together in what I would term a very skilfully written piece of Black Metal product. If I was critiquing a piece of steak, I’d say it’s that perfect balance between flavour filled and tender. It’s always nice to hear and feel a vision or idea come together with such fluidity and taste.
Often when reviewing something new to me I find it easy to lapse into critical and comparative mindset. Yet comparatives don’t do it justice and justifying criticism of the release seems futile as I believe any avid fan of the genre would not be able to find fault with the album, other than trying to bring up the old, “Ah but they Christian” argument, which for me would be a baseless argument especially considering the fact that the album explodes on fire from start to finish regardless. Good music is good music whichever way you try twist it, and this is really good music.
I love “Ghost Town” mainly for its straight to the point no nonsense approach right from the start. No huge dragging on introduction, just bamm! And off we go like a rocket ship. So much aggression in the guitars yet it has groove to it, and delivers a very melodic interpretation of black metal with doom overtones. The quality and musicianship as the instruments work off one another is a stand out for me on the song as you see a group of folk that know how to work together professionally, and in so doing are able to write material that is really good and in fact memorable. The song as a whole sets up the direction of the album and is a good indicator of where things are going to go from there. It might give a little too much of what’s to come, but that’s alright as it does not throw it all away on the first track.
One thing is for sure is that the guitar playing is exemplary and are stand out characteristics of the quality and level of musicianship you are presented with. It’s a difficult album for me to exactly say where it fits because though its core is black metal, it is filled with a lot of melodic pieces, with an occasional drift or leaning towards doom metal at times. I think it’s a disservice to the album and the band as a whole to lump it purely under a label of black metal. It’s a hybrid of sorts with an experimental edge which gives it a vast array of colour and depth.
“Significant” has a strong powerful groove and showcases Cato Gulaker drumming ability as he is able to drive the song home without distracting from the body of the song. He is a great spine for the aggression and impeccable delivery of the buzzsaw guitars. The drumming is a constant magnet to my ears as it holds a lot of the strength of the songs together.
The stand out track for me is the third song, “Ad Baculum”, it starts off with a powerful melodic and groovy intro, and the doominess and monotony is almost like a heavier Swans track. It has a lot of melody in it and in some parts very delicate in its execution, and vocally it’s probably the more melodic number on this album.
The last song, Ouroboros finishes the album with a strong and powerful exit. Completing this EP with a definitively solid window into the possibility of things to come.
Axis Mundi is a testimony of musical proficiency and just enough of it without being smothered by it. The musical integrity is bar non almost perfect. There are not really any bad parts to this release unless you really bridge criticism with stupidity. The Lyrics are poetic and eloquent at times, and the level of writing quality only helps drive home the album. Even though they are a Christian band the album itself is not preachy at all. This lends itself to wider audience and appreciation sphere, and there are certainly some agreeable conversations within the album whether you are a believer or not, might have some significance for you.
In closing this has been one of the harder albums I have had to review; just because there is so much going on beyond the surface arrangements with this that it’s difficult to place where it belongs and to whom it would appeal too. It’s a technical album that has a experimental edge to it and that isolates it a bit if I leave you with that, because the artistic proficiency goes beyond that. So this is for folk with a great appreciation for good metal, who have a key interest in the technical stuff going on here, not just for a guy who is looking for a good tune to sing on the bus, or have running around in his head, but like an academic who wants to explore the musical depths of artistic brilliance. It’s an album that deserves a keen ear of respect because Axis Mundi does not mess around and delivers a strong portion of brilliance that is evenly set from start to finish.
Written by Donovan de Necker
Favourite track: ‘Ad Baculum’
1. Ghost Town
3. Ad Baculum
Jon Ivar Larsen
Release Date: May 30th, 2020