AUTOKRATOR: Hammer Of The Heretics
Release year: 2018/2019
Label: Krucyator Productions
Apparently, on earlier releases French Autokrator’s style was a mixture of death metal, doom metal and drone. I say apparently, because this is the first album I’ve heard by the band whose guitarist (apparently) also runs Krucyator Productions, who released the album.
If so, then the band has taken a step into a far more straightforward direction for their third album – but traces of their more experimental past remains especially in how the album sounds. It’s an album that takes some time to get to grips with, but it’s worth the effort.
Starting the album with a riff that even echoes De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas -era Mayhem, Autokrator plunges the listener into a 35-minute abyss of blackened, cruel death metal with Hammer Of The Heretics. The starting riff is slightly deceptive: quickly the album turns far more into death metal territory than black metal.
The thing that’s hardest to get to grips with is the sound on the album. As alluded above, I think one can sense traces of the band’s past stylings here. The rhythm guitars are this weird sludge, more of a dense rumble than anything coherent. The lead guitars frequently drown in this mass, leading to some of them becoming rather unintelligible. The vocals are a hoarse and gruff growl that echo in the background. The drums could benefit from a bit more punch, having a slightly artifical edge to them.
The resulting soundscape is interesting, and something of a two-edged sword. On the one hand, and this is the side of the sound you face first, it makes the album a rumbling, wallowing mass of chaos from where it’s hard to pick out what’s happening. On the other hand, after you give Hammer Of The Heretics some time and put a bit of effort into finding out what’s going on beneath the sludgy, echoing rumbling, the soundscape takes on a very menacing, heavy and oppressive ambience.
It’s definitely not the kind of production you’d think would work for a death metal album, but despite some fumbling, for the most part Autokrator make it work.
Musically, Hammer Of The Heretics offers largely some pretty standard death metal with plenty of blackened elements and perhaps the odd nod to a more experimental direction. Purely on that level, the album isn’t the apex of originality. However, the songs are well-crafted, lengthy compositions consisting of multiple parts, laden with razor-sharp riffage, menacing vocal work and an ominous, torturous atmosphere; original or not, this stuff works. Hammer Of The Heretics sounds menacing and threatening.
It might seem odd that I spend several paragraphs describing how the sound on the album is, and one measly paragraph on the musical style. But that’s just the thing: where the music is a pretty standard fare, good but ultimately nothing to warrant too much rambling, the production on the album is unusual. And, despite being a two-edged sword where at times the production detracts from the music, for the most part it lends the album a dark, oppressive, hostile and harsh atmosphere that enhances the music.
Hammer Of The Heretics is an album where the different aspects of it – the production, the music, the sadistic cover artwork – complement each other. It’s not a perfect album; apart from the already oft-mentioned occasional issues with the production, only opener Against Flesh And Blood is a particularly memorable track; but despite this, it’s a powerful album.
Ultimately, in conclusion, Hammer Of The Heretics is a fine slab of modern-but-timeless blackened death metal. Flaws and all, I earnestly like it. It’s an album I do recommend checking out, but be prepared to give it a couple of spins at appropriate volumes to properly appreciate it.