Numerous long shadows fall across Akercocke's latest album, Choronzon, including Metallica's Master of Puppets, Opeth's Blackwater Park, and the Current 93 school of drawing-room satanism. This could bode well -- or poorly. It all depends on who's working with the source material. Akercocke, four Anglo-Saxon agents of Satan who have the good sense to wear natty matching suits, narrowly miss being boring by providing an object lesson in the difference between immersion and engagement.
Maybe devil worship doesn't do the trick for you the way it used to; certainly, the bugaboos of our present age are less abstract and more immediately threatening. Still, when all the i's and t's are dotted and crossed as effectively as they sometimes are here, it's hard not to love Old Scratch. Choronzon enlists every available ally in its stab at high heresy: Exotic-sounding horns peal over its instrumental breakdowns, and huge, hideous chords laid over thrashward-glancing blast beats weave structure from discord. The metal-specific tropes that make you either love or hate the genre are abundant: Every song is an ambitious exercise in gravitas, most switching time signatures once or twice before accelerating madly and skidding to a stop. The vocals alternate between reverbed screeching and old-school goth crooning, the former being generally more effective than the latter.
The result of all this is great, just as long as it resists succumbing to spoken intervals, which it can't always. Oddly, Choronzon functions best when the band seems less focused on its theme and more intent on just kicking out the jams: The "Sataaaaan!" shriek that concludes "Scapegoat" works precisely because it's little more than an exclamation point sealing off what's been a chalkboard-scraping monster of a song. There, as in "Enraptured by Evil," the band sounds truly lost in the moment, and when that happens, Ackercocke raises goosebumps. Spoken intervals only remind us that we're listening to people like ourselves, when what we really want from our satanists is the feeling that they're in league with the Dark Powers Beyond. It's what these guys don't say that keeps people in suspense.