The booklet for Ankrismah's debut album, 'Dive In The Abyss' is a remarkably apt indication of the sonic vistas captured within. The paper is heavy, dull-textured and so dark it seems to soak up the ink printed onto it, making the off-white and grey text hard to read at best, or reducing it to a faint pattern against the darkness. The music is a lot like that - dark, bleak and murky. The production is crude - the drums are especially strangely mixed, kick drum, snare and toms lurking in an almost subsonic stratum while tympani crash and quiver in a haze of white noise. Vocals are low in the mix and often deviate from the printed lyrics - where these are discernible - into raw, primal nonverbal roars and cries.
For all of that, the music is surprisingly varied in its own way. You won't get the overt experimentation and eclecticism of better known French Black Metal bands like Blut Aus Nord or Deathspell Omega here, this is a far more traditional approach to the genre, rooted in the sounds of Darkthrone's Transylvanian Hunger, or Mayhem's De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas with perhaps a nod or two to the uncompromising textures of Inquisition.
A case in point is the opening track, 'Black hole' which kicks right into a dissonant, pulsating riff that instantly reminds me of early second wave Black Metal, right down to that low-fidelity sound. After this set-up, the music moves via a discordant ascending pattern into a mid-tempo groove with rasped, eerie vocals. This in turn moves into a truly glacial section with slabs of distortion hanging in the air and conjuring the occasional counterwave of feedback. We're almost in Khanate territory now. Khanate fronted by Attila Csihar, maybe. This extended section seems to descend further and further into dark ululations and unearthly atmospherics that one imagines being produced by inhuman cultists in some nightmare land even HP Lovecraft may have feared to tread before simply coming to an end. A fairly predictable opening for this kind of throwback music, but followed by a breathtaking journey into unexpected depths.
'Profanation du Vice' is a more standard song for the genre, but effective at that with its pulsating medium-fast riffing and tortured vocals. Sometimes, with more commercial black metal bands, the vocal stylings seem to lose their meaning - they're so poised and clinical that one wonders why the singer even needs to maintain a vocal tone that was originally conceived as a rabid cry from the gut, anti-poise and anti-structure. The tortured, off-kilter vocals here easily capture the sense of the truly unhinged that Thomas Warrior used to channel in the Hellhammer days. And that's a good thing. 'Nothing Around' has even more tortured, bestial vocals, but nothing sets it very much apart from the preceding song musically, apart from its extreme brevity.
'Crawling Mist' is an altogether more distinctive song, a seething inferno of murky riffing and a croaking vocal delivery that reminds me of Inquisition songs like 'Desolate Funeral Chant'. While this song doesn't have the sheer sweep of 'Profanation' it's definitely one of the highlights of this album. 'I Curse' hits the ground running with pummeling, droning riffing that may be generic but succeeds at conjuring a dark, ritualistic mode rather than simply merging into nondescript Black Metal wallpaper. 'I worship madness' continues with the trend of songs that are basic in conception, but achieve what they set out to do.
Still, I was pleased when 'Kill Yourself' once again stepped out of the formula, beginning with a brief, slow passage before plunging back into an uptempo riff. The song moves through the by now familiar dissonant, airless landscapes (or rather, seascapes, given the title of the album) and then takes another turn to the slower side before a final surge of speed that is abruptly cut off, leaving us with the subsonic surges of sound that constitute 'Narcose'. Tortured vocal textures weave in and out of the mix. This atmospheric piece serves as a bridge to the excellent album closer, 'To my grave'. While it doesn't notably depart from the pattern established by the middle run of the album, something just sets it apart - better riffs, probably or just a greater energy during the recording of this particular track. It also helps that the song displays a dynamic range, moving halfway into another funereal section with simple, doomy riffs and lots of sonic space. In any case it's a great closer to the album.
I'd classify this album as a grower. It takes time to identify the high points and get the measure of the album. And Ankrismah don't make it easy for the listener. There are no keyboard layers or melodic guitar passages to provide an obvious contrast to what are essentially 9 tracks of uncompromisingly old-school, lo-fi Black Metal. Instead, it's the occasional placement of slow-paced, yet equally dark and gruelling passage that serves as counterweight to the more straightforward stretches of the album. This isn't going to be a crossover success, or appeal to listeners who are expecting the kind of experimentation Ankrismah (and label owner Shaxul) seem to have turned their back on - but that doesn't change the fact that this is an intense, nightmarish album and a debut that holds the promise of greater things as Ankrismah hone their songwriting chops.