The Axis of Perdition have always been a unique entity, full of ferocious blackened malevolence and unhinged industrial tangents that, at one time, had them occupying the same mindshare as Anaal Nathrakh. However, their original unrelenting nature quickly gave way to more experimental pursuits that saw them drifting in new directions.
So it is on Urfe that The Axis of Perdition have gone almost exclusively to the dark ambient side, much in the vein of "Forms on the other side of silence" or the recent releases. On the first part, Grief of the Unclean, industrial soundscapes surge into the ears: the droning groan of massive machinery echoes in a subterranean world; metallic clanks and shrieks travel from unknown sources. The focal point, however, is a decidedly Silent Hill narrative (which is certainly fitting after The Red God) - part physical horror, part psychotic projection. It follows a man, Urfe, through a decayed, hellish world as he first explores, then attempts to escape it. With a great use of dark imagery and perilous situations, such as his flight from a murderously sexual dogboy trying to consume his genitals, the story of Urfe is delivered in the fitting British tones of actor Leslie Simpson, who is no stranger to horror himself. The story here is definitely one to be experienced firsthand, so I won't go into it any more, but it's well worth losing yourself into.
The second half, The Great Unwashed, continues this story-driven approach, yet introduces some new (old) elements. Namely, the last vestige of their black metal past show up on "II" and "IV," insidious slabs of discord that shudder under the torturous fingers of a sadistic world. Imagine, if you will, Blut Aus Nord, fallen and groveling in a pit of scrap metal, blood lost amongst the flakes of rust. Small sections of narrative, even parts with clean singing, can be found within these as well, deftly soldered amongst the sharp black edges. While I enjoy the strict spoken approach of Grief of the Unclean, I have to say that I was disappointed to find that The Great Unwashed didn't offer more material of the metal sort. One of the biggest appeals of their previous albums was the intense take on industrial black metal, and it's even more tortuous to hear the excellence of "II" and "IV," knowing that to be the only concession to be found. However, the ambience is also different on this half of the album, taking on a busier cacophany that harks back to the noisy experimentalism of Deleted Scenes from the Transition Hospital, and "VI" finishes the album off with a bright, hopeful instrumental piece as well.
I'm torn about this album, actually. I'm a huge fan of ambience and spoken material, so I have little to complain about. Yet, on the other hand, I feel like The Axis of Perdition could have offered more, and I can't quite get over it; that the black metal material constitutes one-sixth of the album doesn't help whatsoever. But, while I may get blue balls from this, it's still something that I would gladly return to.
Verdict: Win (8/10)