(Andy Synn lays down the gauntlet with the new album from Germany’s Acranius)
Sometimes, to really understand how a band got to where they are, you have to take a close look back at where they came from.
In the case of Germanic brutes Acranius this is particularly revealing, as in hindsight it’s clear that 2017’s Reign of Terror marked a major turning point away from their more Slam-influenced early work towards what’s best described as more of a “Brutal Deathcore” sound.
Sure, there were still several recognisable elements still hanging over from their first two albums – especially the slamtastic snare and the largely unintelligible gurgling monotone of the vocals – but it was clear even then that the band were in the process of becoming something else… something which has finally achieved its final, fearsome form on Mercy Denied.
While it’s true that this transformation may prove a little disappointing to fans of the band’s larval Slam-stage (although, personally, I appreciate the move away from the unvarying all-vowel vocalisations of their early stuff in favour of a much more authoritative – not to mention articulate – blend of guttural growls and savage snarls) it’s not like Acranius have gone soft… just get an earful of obnoxiously heavy opener “Rule of Seven” if you don’t believe me… and more that they’ve chosen to refocus their energies in a slightly different way this time around.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a lot of fun getting beaten senseless by both When Mutation Becomes Homicidal and Dishonor over the years (the latter especially), but it often felt like the band were just throwing punches wildly and hoping they’d connect (which, more often than not, they did, to be fair).
On Mercy Denied however – which, I need to point out, is about as apt an album title as you could ask for – it feels much more like the band are picking their shots and placing their punches with more power and more precision, meaning there’s less wasted energy and more chance of every single blow being a knock-out.
To extend this somewhat tortured metaphor a little further… if the band’s first two albums were them as a wiry, bare-knuckle street brawler, getting by on a mix of tooth-grinding grit and berserker frenzy, their latest sees them transforming into a muscle-bound heavyweight prize-fighter capable of taking on – and taking down – the biggest and best in the business.
It’s not all about the massive riffs and gargantuan grooves of songs like “Despairbound” and “Crooked Leech” (either of which could present however – it’s the better all-round songwriting, the more purposeful and organic structuring (the slow but steady increase in pace in “No Dignity” being a prime example), and the incorporation of a plethora of big, bold, and shamelessly bombastic hooks (heavy, hammering, hate-fuelled hooks yes, but hooks all the same) which really defines what a significant evolutionary leap this album is for the band.
All three of these elements are especially apparent during both “Scorn” and “Ruthless” – two of the album’s early highlights – and cripplingly heavy closer “Embittered”, all three of which remind me a great deal of early Whitechapel circa The Somatic Defilement/This Is Exile, only heavier… which is no bad thing in my book.
It’s not a perfect record by any means – the addition of a second stand-alone vocalist seems somewhat superfluous to me, and the cringeworthy appearance of Cameron Argon of Disfiguring the Goddess on the otherwise killer “Still Unconquered” adds absolutely nothing to the album apart from maybe a few dubious “scene points” – but these relatively minor flaws ultimately pale in comparison to the major upgrade the group have given themselves here.