Michel Nienhuis is a man on a mission. Like Victor Frankenstein, he knows he’s creating something unique that can challenge the rules of the established order. As the main guitarist and composer of avant-garde black metal disruptors, Dodecahedron, Nienhuis sees an opportunity for rebirth following the sad death of vocalist, Michiel Eikenaar. Those distressed by the demise of Dodecahedron might be wondering what the Dutchmen could have achieved if they continued on their path to originality. The message is clear: you have nothing to fear. Autarkh is an evolution from Dodecahedron, just as Asphyx are an offshoot of Pestilence.
Along with Spiritbox and Pupil Slicer, Form in Motion is a record at the top of this reviewer’s most anticipated debut albums of 2021. With this sense of excitement comes a responsibility to keep a clear head and deliver a balanced assessment for those reading this analysis. But let’s forget about responsibilities. This is a record that sounds like nothing else in extreme metal and could become the next most imitated thing in the underground. Listen to ‘Turbulence’ and ask if you’ve ever heard anything like it? Sure, you can pick out the Meshuggah riff patterns, the black metal dissonance of Nienhuis’s predecessor band and the glitchy interruptions of Autechre and Squarepusher. But you won’t hear anything like the finished product. The lyrics read like the journal of a survivor from a community that fell apart and resorted to massacre and feuding. Those pre-chorus military beats are sinister; the eye-bursting vocal hysterics gargled like the cannibalistic euphoria of a man ravaged by insanity.
‘Cyclic Terror’ is as bleak and unsentimental as Godflesh’s legendary Streetcleaner album. Place a finger behind you ear and listen to the bass guitar rumblings underneath the miasma of distortion. Could this be a new genre of futuristic doom metal? Is that a flash of Killing Joke in the chorus to ‘Introspectrum’? It’s hard to think of a band that write the exact musical equivalent of their claustrophobic and dystopian lyrics, as if fusing sound and word into one. “Now, this is what will start the cure/ Expect discomfort and lay hold of its allure/ Hardship is what I shall endure/ To search the depths for what has always been obscured,” screams Nienhuis over dissonant guitars and hostile electronics.
Jesus Christ, this is dark and unsettling music. ‘Lost to Sight’ and ‘Clouded Aura’ mix tribal blast beats with post-metal guitar shapes. The former recalls Author & Punisher, the latter evokes the fortitude of Gojira’s Joe Duplantier. This is what Voivod would sound like if they decided to play black metal, only this is no science fiction dystopia – this is Lord of the Flies and Heart of Darkness. It all crystallises on ‘Alignment’ the penultimate track and embodiment of Autarkh in their raw brutality. All the quintessential elements are present – the slithery Aphex Twin beats, the electronic doom riffs, the raspy vocals, the high frequency noise effects. Be under no illusions: this is HEAVY music. Nienhuis surprises even more with the rhythmic delivery of his vocals. These rage like the hypothetical intensity of Black Crown Initiate’s James Dorton covering Faith No More’s rap verses in ‘Epic’. But don’t be put off by the ‘rap’ word. This is no home boy shaking his shoulders and spreading his fingers like a spastic; this is the furious onomatopoeia of death metal playing off a two-beat drum pattern.
Some of you will frown at Autarkh and reach for the ‘stop’ button. That’s understandable and no shame on you. Form in Motion is oppressive and bleak. Nienhuis takes the worst instincts of the human condition for his lyrical inspiration and captures the transformative frenzy of the person who searches for the divine and cares nothing for the lesser beings that fall by the wayside. You might also question the merits of incorporating intelligent dance music (IDM) into a post-black metal Meshuggah experiment. Is there one extreme metal record where IDM enhanced the experience after the early Aborym albums? Probably not, but this is a contender to reverse the trend.
The biggest danger to Autarkh is hype and the determination in the metal press to identify an artist ahead of their time. Nevertheless, our money is on these Dutchmen as the next cult favourite and potential influencer of a new wave of extreme metal bands. This album is not perfect, but it oozes longevity and originality.
Release Date: 12/03/2021
Record Label: Season of Mist
Standout tracks: Turbulence, Lost to Sight, Alignment
Suggested Further Listening: Godflesh – Streetcleaner (1989), Killing Joke – Killing Joke (1980), Meshuggah – Nothing (2002)