Album Title: Okkult II
Label: Massacre Records
Date of Release: 6 July 2018
What is ‘success’ in a heavy metal context? Is it being as popular as Metallica, with the ability to sell out arenas on each and every tour? Or is it a career of hard work, consistency of quality and a core fanbase? We see it so many times within metal circles; bands that seem to have been around forever, earnestly producing new material every few years and then getting out on the road to bring the music to the stage. So many of these bands will never get close to the arenas, or even to the bigger venues on the next rung down. More often than not, they will organise tours around ‘day’ jobs and play in front of crowds that number in the hundreds. But they still give everything to the cause, with success being in the eye of the beholder.
I often wondered why these bands continue to do it to themselves, for such seemingly meagre reward. And then I realised, somewhat embarrassingly, that I do exactly the same with my website. The bands do it because they love what they do and they have a love of music, regardless of whether or not it’ll lead to fame and fortune. That isn’t what it is about.
One of these bands is Atrocity. The German quartet have been around for thirty years now and have released an impressive body of work over the years in the process. However, despite being the brainchild behind Leaves Eyes, Atrocity has never taken off and hit the metal mainstream; instead they have diligently and determinedly plied their trade in the semi-underground, albeit amassing a decent legion of loyal followers in the process.
Over the years, Atrocity have toyed with a few variations within their sound. Beginning life as a more no-nonsense death metal band, they have dabbled with more bombastic symphonics, as well as raising more than a few eyebrows by releasing two albums of metalized 80s pop classics. Well, I guess someone had to do it, so why not Atrocity? I’ll admit that it’s not my personal cup of tea, but I’m not going to vilify them for doing this.
And now, in 2018, Alex Krull and co. return with album number ten. Entitled ‘Okkult II’, it is an album that takes the band full circle, or at least close to it. This is because this new record harkens most closely to their roots, in that it is a much more no-nonsense, stripped back death metal affair. They haven’t entirely ditched their symphonic trappings, just toned them down, refined them, ensuring that it is the ‘metal’ that takes centre stage.
On that score, Atrocity have succeeded triumphantly because this is a heavy-sounding album. Much of it has to do with the strong production, but that’s not the whole story. On ‘Okkult II’, the guitar tones of Thorsten Bauer and Pete Streit are meaty, weighty and muscular. They mean business and it is almost impossible not to start nodding your head in appreciation the moment they enter the fray. And that’s 12 seconds into opener ‘Masters Of Darkness’. They initially chug and then they open up into a groovy riff that grows with repeated listens. Prior to the introduction of the guitars, we get a flamboyant drum embellishment that reveals drumming as powerful as the guitars, which alongside the chunky, rumbling bass of Bauer, provides the most solid of backbones upon which to build an album. That’s not to say that the rhythm section is merely functional, because that’s not the case, with Joris Nijenhuis belting out some excellent beats, fills and rolls along the way.
Follow-up, ‘Shadowtaker’ has a demonstrable thrash side to it, thanks to the speed, ferocity and wailing, gnashing solos that are sprinkled within. That said, the slower stomp that’s introduced just after the halfway point is a welcome variation of pace. In contrast, ‘Bloodshed And Triumph’ blends some more overt symphonic bombast with some fast-paced material that verges on black metal to my ears.
Speaking of black metal, Atrocity get their Cradle of Filth on during ‘Infernal Sabbath’, an over-the-top Gothic-infused romp that has more than just a passing reference to Suffolk’s finest extreme metal export. The keys of Alexander Krull bathe the song with pretty much more grandiosity than anywhere else on this entire record. The groove that cuts into the speedy riffing at points is nicely done, but it is the introduction of female spoken-word vocals that segues into more blastbeats and symphonic orchestration that leaves the listener in no doubt as to the inspiration at play here.
The dive-bombing, spiralling solos within ‘Spell of Blood’ are pretty cool, as is the touch of Therion within Gates To Oblivion. And then there’s the guest appearance from LG Petrov within ‘Devil’s Covenant’ which cannot fail to catch the ear
For the most part elsewhere however, there’s a sense of the familiar, a sense that Atrocity are playing things just a little safe. Yes there are more guitars and yes there’s an unholy groove to much of the material but by the same token, there are periods within the record where my mind wanders and I’m not fully invested in the output. As I type this, I feel like I’m being harsh but it is borne out of a desire to be entirely honest.
Nevertheless, I feel the need to make it crystal clear that the positives with ‘Okkult II’ vastly outweigh any negativity on my part. Having never fully succumbed to the charms of Atrocity, the Germans have arguably come closest to pulling me under their spell with this effort. As a result, ‘Okkult II’ is very much a positive experience, deserving of the plaudits that it is bound to receive from many quarters, myself included.
The Score of Much Metal: 8.25
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
Kataklysm – Meditations
Marduk – Viktoria
Midas Fall – Evaporate
The Sea Within – The Sea Within
Haken – L-1VE
Follow The Cipher – Follow The Cipher
Spock’s Beard – Noise Floor
Ihsahn – Amr
The Fierce And The Dead – The Euphoric
Millennial Reign – The Great Divide
Subsignal – La Muerta
At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself
Dimmu Borgir – Eonian
Hekz – Invicta
Widow’s Peak – Graceless EP
Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik – Hugsjá
Frequency Drift – Letters to Maro
Æpoch – Awakening Inception
Crematory – Oblivion
Wallachia – Monumental Heresy
Skeletal Remains – Devouring Mortality
MØL – Jord
Aesthesys – Achromata
Kamelot – The Shadow Theory
Barren Earth – A Complex of Cages
Memoriam – The Silent Vigil
Kino – Radio Voltaire
Borealis – The Offering
W.E.T. – Earthrage
Auri – Auri
Purest of Pain – Solipsis
Susperia – The Lyricist
Structural Disorder – …And The Cage Crumbles In the Final Scene
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Divine Realm – Nordicity
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Poem – Unique
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Apathy Noir – Black Soil
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse