(A review of Anti-Cosmic Tyranny, the debut album by A.S.M.G. from Edmonton, Canada, scheduled for release by Profound Lore on August 20, 2013.)
A dark aura surrounds A.M.S.G. even before you make your way into the band’s music. “A.M.S.G.” stands for Ad Majorem Satanae Gloriam, which means “for the greater glory of Satan”. The band calls its music “Holocaustik Canadian Terrorist Black Metal” and “Black Magik Terrorism”. The striking artwork (or at least part of it) for the band’s forthcoming album Anti-Cosmic Tyranny resembles (and perhaps it is) the Qliphoth, alternately known in the Hermetic Qabalah and Kabbalistic mysticism as the Tree of Knowledge or the Tree of Death.
And then there’s AngelFukk Witchhammer, formerly of Canadian black metal bands Ouroboros and Rites Of Thy Degringolade, as well as a member of Gloria Diaboli. He does everything for A.M.S.G. except play drums. He wrote Anti-Cosmic Tyranny while serving a term in prison (not his first) for charges related to possession and sale of guns and drugs, an enterprise used to finance band activities. In his words, “We were building black metal on crime.” He is out of prison now, but no less serious about his dedication to Luciferian philosophies and steadfast opposition to the “cosmic tyranny” of religion in all of its forms.
Anti-Cosmic Tyranny is uncompromising, too, but maybe not in the way you would assume from what I’ve just written. For a genre of music born in an ethos of rebellion and resistance, black metal in the hands of many bands ironically has become calcified and orthodox. But Anti-Cosmic Tyranny lives and breathes the principle of “Do what thou wilt”. It follows its own unique path, and musically, it’s a thoroughly unpredictable mind-fuck.
Certain elements of the music are indeed faithful to a deeply underground, old-school kind of ritualistic aural violence. At some point in every song, the music becomes a storm of squalling destructive noise, with soul-reaping guitars roaring, swarming, or whirring like bone saws, and with the drums convulsing in a frenzied tumult. Scratchy, static-shrouded layers of poisonous fog roll in, and morbid melodies seep through the cacophony like congealing blood. Distortion is king and doom lies in wait just around the corner.
Perhaps most unsettling of all are the vocals. I suspect they will put most listeners off, even most listeners who consider themselves fans of black metal. Most of the time they’re a croaking, corrosive, utterly rancid effusion of bile and vitriol, a combination of nails on the chalkboard and the sound of lungs being vomited up in a spray of blood. More often than not, the lyrics are chanted or proclaimed, as if by a deranged inmate who’s found his way from the asylum to a street corner, filled to bursting with incantations that must be recited even if they will not be understood.
And when the vocals aren’t strangled, cracking, and acidic, they’re unsettling in other ways — somber, near-clean spoken words that carry occult meanings; brutally agonizing screams; cavernous, electronically manipulated muttering; and a cacophony of multiple voices, none of which sound sane.
But everything I’ve just described is only one facet of the music. What makes this album so unorthodox is that the songs change unexpectedly from minute to minute, keeping the listener almost constantly off-balance. Side-by-side with explosions of sulfurous hellfire you’ll find such things as saxophone solos, the voices of a choir, guitar notes climbing and descending simple scales, rock ‘n’ roll drum rhythms, eastern melodies, majestic metal hymns, the echoes of bells tolling and lead guitar lines that also sound like the pealing of bells, rippling arpeggios and whirling-dervish dances accompanied by tones that almost sound like a calliope, punk rock chords, classical phrasings, and even a hint of Dissection-style grandeur in the album’s long closing track (“Blood Bone and Blackthorn”).
Surprisingly, the effect of all this wild, intermingled variation isn’t complete chaos, because as the songs progress they return to motifs established earlier. They give you just enough to hold onto that you resist the impulse to turn it off and run screaming into the street, or headlong into the nearest wall. Compelling melodies come back at just the right moments, driving rhythms reappear and pull your head back into a neck-snapping groove, and even the frequent moments of shock and disorientation are so fascinating that they keep you rooted in place. Or at least that’s what happened to me.
Honestly, I suspect that only a small percentage of listeners will succumb to the unusual appeal of Anti-Cosmic Tyranny, and no matter what anyone writes about the album, you’ll have to hear it for yourself to find out if you’re among those who, like me, will be transfixed by it. It follows no trends, it adheres to few rules, it’s avant garde without seeming forced or calculated (or civilized). It defiantly stands out from the pack of newer black metal bands, practicing a death ritual all its own. But if you’re the sort of black metal fan who’s always looking for something original and off the beaten path, something created by a dedicated band who gives no fucks for convention and who also happens to have genuine creative talent, then this is an album that must be heard.
This is a very early review. The album isn’t scheduled for release until August 20. But having heard it, I felt compelled to write while the sensation was fresh. And speaking of sensation (or more accurately, sensationalism), when word about the album gets around — and word will get around — it’s inevitable that other reviews will begin pretty much like this one did. But as rare (and sensationalist) as it may be for a metal album to be written from prison by a former gun-runner and drug-dealer, it’s the music that really counts, and Anti-Cosmic Tyranny is worthy of respect in its own right.
Additional information about the album can be found here. Pre-order opportunities will be made available in the coming weeks. One song has been released for streaming so far — ”Gnosis Granted From the Bloodline of Fire” — and you can hear it below. It’s one of my favorite tracks and a good example of the approach I’ve tried to describe above (though every song brings its own surprises).