I have always had a lot of time and respect for Alexander Krull. Not only does he share a name with a vastly underrated and not at all terrible fantasy masterpiece (shut it, you…), but throughout his time as the main man of Atrocity he has constantly railed against just doing the straight up and normal, be that by releasing an eighties covers album about fifteen years before it was cool to do so, collaborating with darkwave könige, Das Ich, dark acoustic EP’s with Celtic folk singers, or by mixing massive Prong-ridden grooves with Death and Gothic metal on meisterstück, Blut (Massacre).
Yet, Atrocity, nor, indeed, Krull’s other endeavour, Leaves Eyes, never quite found the golden formula, with Atrocity in particular suffering, perhaps, by both confusing their fanbase as to quite what they were trying to achieve and by being unable to reach the creative heights of their mid-Nineties zenith. Having dallied with symphonic-tinged Rammstein inspired albums, and a return to folky experimentation on their brief resurfacings during the twenty-first century, 2013’s Okkult (Napalm) took many by surprise by reigniting the fire of Death Metal back into the Atrocity sound, while retaining the symphonic overlays of previous releases, a direction that its successor Okkult II (Massacre) continues to hurdle down.
One of the main strings to the Atrocity bow has always been Krull’s love of a big groove, and ‘Master of Darkness’ ushers things in that style: a meaty Groove Metal opener that sprouts a symphonic choir to elevate it above the norm. ‘Shadowtaker’ hurtles in next, showcasing Death Metal intent before, it too, hits a sizable chunky groove, while ‘Bloodshed and Triumph’ – with Krull abandoning his usual bark and unleashing the razor throat to emulate the legendary Chuck Schuldiner – sees the final element of this albums triumvirate of styles come to the fore, with Atrocity fully channeling their inner Dimmu Borgir.
And matters progress from there as a mix of headbanging Groove Metal, blasting Death Metal sections and symphonic surprises. ‘Gates to Oblivion’ features Marc Grewe of Morgoth and mixes the Willenskraft (Massacre) bluster with an Into The Pandemonium (Noise) chorus, while ‘Infernal Sabbath’ is a most enjoyable blackened, melodic, hooky number that could well have been lifted from recent Satyricon efforts.
So, plenty to enjoy, but there are also several less inspired moments, where even the choral embellishments can’t save what is a remaining selection of stock if fiery, beasts of burden that are a bit too 1993. And therein lies part of the problem with fully recommending Okkult II. It is a fun album, and wholeheartedly decent, but in a world where Fleshgod Apocalypse do symphonic with incredible guile and sheer extravagance, and Septicflesh do it with experimentation and (witch)craft, where Dimmu unfurl lavish catchiness, and where Prong are still ripping out those neck snapping grooves, you can find all of the elements that make up Atrocity being performed to higher standards elsewhere.
But I do still have a lot of respect and time for Alex Krull, and Okkult II is a respectable addition to a varied (both in terms of style and quality!) canon of work, and long may he continue adding to it.