The Devil’s Fractal is album number two from this US black metal wizard Andrew Markuszewski. While he’s also a contributing member of post-punk and progressively-inclined underground metal superstars Nachtmystium, his releases under the Avichi moniker comprise infinitely sterner and bleaker sermons, with a core sound closer to the primal thrust of orthodox black metal (along with a welcome dose of avant-garde thematic complexity).
If you’re a follower of the darker realms of metal you’ll have no doubt noticed there’s been a stack of stellar releases over the last few years that have grasped the chilling historic Norwegian aesthetic and combined it with a renewed, determined effort to push the scene forward (to much displeasure from some quarters, it must be noted). Much like US outfits Agalloch, Krallice, Wolves In The Throne Room and Woe, or European bands such as Aosoth, Deathspell Omega, Aenaon or Blut Aus Nord, Avichi walks the traditional path laid with foundational stepping-stones of raw fury. But with similar ambitions to those bands, Avichi offers a discerning, immaculately presented album that is saturated in varying sonic and lyrical densities.
If you like your black metal crude and lo-fi, then The Devil’s Fractal is not the album for you. There is plenty of blasting, blasphemy and brutality on offer, but this is an album produced with great care and maturity. Markuszewski, who performs all vocals, guitars, synth, and bass on the album,**with Charlie Fell handling the drums, has gone to great lengths to ensure the album’s overall sound is not remotely understated. The guitars are all upfront, crisp and clear, and while there are frenzied chords a ringing and riffs galore, they’ve been captured pristinely. The drums, which have to be mentioned, are incredible, carrying a palpable weight, and the rasping and guttural vocals are (surprisingly) understandable—no doubt due Markuszewski’s intent that the overall theme is clearly understood. Making great use on some songs of Middle Eastern timbres, à la Melechesh, to bring those archaic mystical themes to the fore, this is a sonically sophisticated and multilayered album. It’s all the better for it—were it unrefined, it would lose a great deal of its impact.
Thematically, Avichi takes things to a whole new level with a multi-posited, metaphysical take on the dark lord. It suits the music within perfectly of course, but it’s no one-dimensional romp through any tired satanic metal clichés. The lyrics are insightful and philosophical and form a core part of the album’s overall success (and at this point I should mention the album’s cover, which is exquisite).
Ending the album with the near 20-minute chaotic couplet of “The Devil’s Fractal I” and “The Devil’s Fractal Il” proves that Avichi can not only come up with a fittingly epic and spellbinding finish to match the**sinister overarching themes, but also is clever enough to ensure you are left with an album just as barbed and tempting as Satan himself.
The Devil’s Fractal has to leave a raft of other black metal bands weeping. While admittedly a challenging listen, with dramatic shifts in mood and temperament, it is a superb example of an album that flawlessly conjures up one man’s singular vision. I’ll be heartily recommending this to everyone, even folks who’ve sworn off black metal. The list for black metal album of the year is getting awfully crowded but, whatever the eventual outcome, Avichi is assured a top spot.