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The Cold Earth Slept Below... (1996)
 

Judas Iscariot was among one of the better-known American Black Metal bands and, for some reason, has long held a high level of respect within the underground. This is quite difficult to explain, since the band was mediocre at best and struggled even to achieve that rank. The Cold Earth Slept Below..., released in 1996 on Moribund Records, was the first full-length album from the inept hands of Akhenaten and serves as a good representation of everything that was wrong with Black Metal from the other side of the Atlantic.

The first thing that one may notice is that the musicianship is utterly horrible, even by the low standards of raw Black Metal. The drumming is the most obvious flaw, and it is clear why people would be better off finding bandmates to play with, rather than trying to be the next Varg and do everything alone. The drumming is atrocious and is one of the worst elements of the whole record. At many points, it is clear that he is struggling to keep up with the riffs, but then overcompensates by getting a burst of adrenalin and speeding up too much. To make it worse, one can also hear him losing the energy to pound away at such a furious pace, as the drumming will get weaker and almost fade into the background. In this style of Black Metal, percussion is supposed to be an afterthought, being relegated to the role of keeping time and nothing more; however, it is so sloppy that it distracts from the guitar riffs and kills the momentum of the songs. The whole performance is completely laughable, and it sounds as if Akhenaten had just gotten his first drum kit about a week before the album was recorded.

The vocals are also a low point, showing a total disconnect with the music and appearing to be random, with no real thought put forth in advance. The vocal patterns are haphazard and give off a very amateurish vibe, for the most part. Instead of going along with the music in some fashion, his voice almost exists in some separate dimension, which adds to the overall lack of cohesiveness found on the album. There are some clean vocals utilized on "Reign", which actually add to the melancholic feeling and comes off as a nice touch.

"Damned Below Judas" starts out with a sombre tremolo riff, blasting drums and typical grim vocals. Right away, it sounds like a third-rate Darkthrone wannabe. The riffs are not too bad, and the sloppiness even works within the context of the style, yet the horrid drumming kills the song. The guy is all over the place, and the focus shifts away from the guitar melody (which is ripping off the title track to Transilvanian Hunger) and onto the comedic percussive efforts. All in all, it sounds like a child attempting, poorly, to emulate his heroes. There is a slower section, near the end, reminiscent of Burzum, before struggling to return to the main riff. Sadly, this is one of the better tracks on here.

The next song is about half a minute of grinding, blasting nonsense with some screaming. This is followed by "Babylon", which actually begins with a cold tremolo melody that, again, hearkens back to Akhenaten's favourite Darkthrone record. The guitar tone is slightly different, possessing more of a frozen feeling. Midway through, things slow down as a mid-paced riff is introduced. It is completely out of place and interrupts the flow of the song, but it is soon replaced by something more appropriate. These two ideas alternate for the remainder of the track, with disappointing results. Again, everything fades with random vocals tossed in at the end.

The title track is a pointless instrumental that does nothing to add to the atmosphere of the album, and is rather inconsistent itself. There is one decent riff, but it was stolen from somewhere else. More filler.

"Midnight Frost" is the best song on the record, which is kind of sad considering how flawed it is. It features a freezing tremolo riff and primitive blasting drums, along with hateful vocals that actually suit the music a bit more than usual. There is a slower section, near the middle, that attempts to add a sense of sorrow and morbidity, but Akhenaten is no Varg Vikernes and his efforts pale in comparison. However, at least he manages to keep time with the drums a bit better, during the mid-paced parts. The song returns to the faster riff, ending in a bit of chaos.

The next song follows the same formula. "Ye Blessed Creatures" sounds like a throwaway track from a Darkthrone album. As mediocre as it is, this comes off as one of the more solid tracks on here, just for the fact that it is consistent and the flaws are kept to a minimum. It is rather straightforward and does not bother to include any variation in tempo.

"Reign" starts out with a lot of random chaos, sounding like yet another filler track, until everything slows down and a morbid feeling rises from the fog and the mournful atmosphere begins to wash over you. The woeful clean voice helps add to the sense of despair, with the sorrowful riffs wailing in anguish. This song seems a little underdeveloped, though it may actually be to its benefit that it is kept short and simple. After a couple minutes of misery, the chaotic riffs return and the song ends just as it began.

Next up is "Fidelity", which sounds reminiscent of "Witches Sabbath" from Emperor's Wrath of the Tyrant. It fails to conjure up the same dark feeling, but it is pointless as the riff is abruptly replaced by a different one. After a few moments, Akhenaten decides to rip off Darkthrone's "Slottet I Det Fjerne", with no shame whatsoever. This is not even a case of the riff sounding slightly similar; this is the same riff played by a less skilled musician. The song falls apart, later on, descending deeper into mediocrity.

"Nietzsche" is the longest song on here, at nine and a half minutes. It is quite repetitious, with the same mournful riff repeating for its entirety. There are extremely brief interruptions, but these do not add anything to the atmosphere. Like most of the other tracks, this one could have used a bit more development before being recorded for an L.P. It is not as horrible as some of the others, but it gets boring after a while.

The Cold Earth Slept Below... is not the classic album that some imbeciles would have you believe. It is completely derivative of bands like Darkthrone and Burzum, with very little originality. This still had some potential, but it was ruined by the pathetic musicianship of Akhenaten who, somehow, managed to screw up raw minimalist Black Metal. There are a few decent guitar riffs here, but they all sounded much better the first time around, when heard on Transilvanian Hunger. This amateurish garbage would have been best suited for a demo cassette, as this kid obviously needed time to master his instruments and learn how to write and arrange a song before releasing a full-length. Do not be tricked into believing the hype and thinking this is anything more than pedestrian hero worship.
 
(4 Oct. 2011)

 
 

Judas Iscariot's sophomore effort, Thy Dying Light, was released by Moribund Records in 1996. This was a relatively short time after the appearance of the band's debut album, yet already Akhenaten had ascended to a new level of pretentiousness. This was not only evident in the ridiculously long song titles, but also in the music itself. Regardless of how serious he was, it is quite clear that he failed in attaining his ambitious goals. Furthermore, this album demonstrates just how out of touch Akhenaten was with the true essence of Black Metal. Imitation does not necessarily indicate a sense of understanding, which is something that is often lost on many.

The album begins with "...But Eternals Beheld His Vast Forests...", which is a rather minimalist track that does not stray far from the formula of Darkthrone-worship that was present on The Cold Earth Slept Below... Frigid tremolo riffs create a bleak atmosphere, with the grim vocal approach suiting the sound and showing a little more of a connection to the music. The drumming is still awful and the timing is obviously flawed, but it is slightly less awkward. The real downside to this song are the terrible breakdowns, that have absolutely no place in Black Metal and certainly not this style. It goes to show that most Americans find it difficult to separate themselves from the moronic Death Metal mentality that was dominant for so long. Given that the music is so unoriginal, it is really puzzling that Akhenaten would not be able to restrain such foolish additions, since he was obviously plagiarizing his heroes in the first place.

"...His Eternal Life, Like a Dream Was Obliterated...", displays more of a Burzum influence, such as the open-arpeggio chords and the slower pace designed to create a sorrowful atmosphere. The vocal approach is completely wrong for this type of song, and does nothing to accentuate the sombre vibe. Though the track clocks in at just over nine minutes, it feels like twenty. All in all, it comes off as kind of flat, since it just drones on and on, with no build and no climax. What little variation that exists here actually serves to undermine the main riff, rather than complimenting it. While none of the riffs go out of their way to destroy the song, it is still a lackluster effort.

Showing no sense of arrangement, Akhenaten follows this lengthy track with one that is even longer. "...Helpless It Lay, Like a Worm in His Frozen Track..." sounds like a combination of Burzum and Darkthrone (which is quite common for Judas Iscariot). It features some more upbeat riffs, mixed with more generic tremolo melodies and some utterly horrible transitions between them. The guitar playing is so sloppy, at times, that one has to wonder if this is a studio album or a garage rehearsal. One has to give credit for the fact that the song includes a handful more riffs than the preceding tracks, but Akhenaten's weak songwriting results in a mess. This song lacks any real sense of unity. This is eleven minutes of disorganized ideas that are thrown together with little or no thought.

"...Behold, Our Race of Unstoppable Genius..." is much shorter, and returns to the fast-paced approach reminiscent of Transilvanian Hunger. This song consists of cold tremolo riffs, inept drumming and disjointed vocals that hardly seem to fit the music at all. In the hands of more competent musicians, some of these riffs could have been decent. The most annoying thing is at the end, where Akhenaten likes to keep talking as the music stops. This guy must really like the sound of his own voice, because he is guilty of doing this a lot.

The next song is "...From His Woven Darkness Above...", which follows the same formula, but manages to be even more irritating. The vocals are comically bad, from the ridiculous pattern to the fact that his voice is too high in the mix. One would think that he would have had the sense to bury his pathetic drumming underneath the guitars, but they are still far too prominent as well. Of course, making matters worse is the presence of a few Death Metal riffs that exposes the fact that this guy has a very feeble grasp on what Black Metal is about, in the first place.

"...Writhing Upon the Wind of Mystic Philosophy and Dreams..." is another track filled with blasting drums and cold tremolo riffs. The vocals sound more like Barbarud from Maniac Butcher, at certain points. This average song is interrupted, near the middle, with a section that sounds inspired by Hellhammer. The thing is that there is no transition at all, the music just disintegrates into something else. This is followed by something more melodic and mournful, which makes no sense at all. How anyone is blind enough to not see through this nonsense is beyond me.

More Darkthrone plagiarism is next, with "...They Saw His Pale Visage Emerge From the Darkness...", leading one to question how Akhenaten released this album with no shame whatsoever. His only worthwhile ideas are stolen or nearly identical to pre-existing riffs and the rest is a clutter of ideas with no sense of logic or continuity. Riffs abruptly end, in order to introduce a concept that has nothing to do with the established theme of the song, only to disappear and shift to something else. As for this song in particular, it is rather straightforward and offers no real surprises. It would be one of the most enjoyable tracks on here, if not for the fact that it is complete rehash.

"...Thy Dying Light, and Desolate Darkness..." is an instrumental that seems to come out of left field, with no real connection to the rest of the material. It sounds oddly familiar as well, which is not a terribly shock considering the source.

Thy Dying Light can be summed up by the outro, which is pointless and laughable, just like the majority of this album. It is sad that so many Black Metal fans cannot see that Judas Iscariot is a joke that no one let them in on. The song arrangement, musicianship and songwriting are all so bad that this is either a prank on the underground or evidence that Akhenaten is a clueless imbecile with no business getting near musical instruments and even less reason to venture into the realm of Black Metal. Get a clue and see this for the trash that it is.
 
(4 Oct. 2011)

 
 

Of Great Eternity is the third studio album from Judas Iscariot. It was released on Elegy Records in 1997, and shows a bit of a progression from the first two records. That is not to say that it is good, but it feels a bit more coherent than its predecessors and the musicianship is somewhat more competent, though not by much. The songwriting is fairly similar to the previous material, though some attempts are made to add depth to the overall product. In the end, this album does not break new ground for the band, but it allows Akhenaten to have a bit more solid footing.

The album begins with "...the Heavens Drop With Human Gore...", which seems to be considered some sort of milestone for the band, though it is average in every way possible. It fades in with a mournful vibe, before transitioning to the standard Darkthrone-worship that Judas Iscariot is known for. The guitar tone is thin and suits the style of the music, while the drumming still exhibits the same limitations as before, though to a lesser degree. The song also includes more mid-paced riffs that are reminiscent of Burzum, but nothing really comes of it and the repetition becomes tedious by the end. Not bad, but nothing to get excited about.

"...I Filled With Woes the Passing Wind..." is an instrumental track that is similar to the title tracks from the previous two records, breaking free of the typical formula used for most of the other songs. It possesses a sombre feeling, though it remains in a state of mediocrity, failing to realize the bit of potential that it has. The song is rather one-dimensional, but that is to be expected from Akhenaten.

The next song is "...Then Mourns the Wanderer...", which begins with more fast tremolo melodies before shifting to something else that sounds familiar in a way. The mid-paced part at least adds some variety to the track, though not doing much to elevate the quality. A Burzum-inspired section, near the end, helps the dark atmosphere expand a bit, before returning to the initial tremolo riff and concluding. This song is probably one of the more enjoyable ones on here, and is bereft of the awkward feeling that plagued most of the earlier material.

"...for the Last Judgement Draweth Nigh..." is a short and straightforward track in the vein of classic-era Darkthrone, of course. The tremolo melodies do not really evoke any sort of feeling, and it all comes off as rather sterile and pointless. The execution is much more competent than similar tracks from The Cold Earth Slept Below... or Thy Dying Light, but it lacks any real purpose or direction.

This is followed by a song that utilizes the same approach. "...Calls to Heaven for Human Blood..." features more cold tremolo riffs, though slightly less sterile. One gets the impression that Akhenaten is at least trying to conjure some sort of dark feeling. There is more variation in tempo and the slower sections add a sense of melancholy to the song. The riffs are a bit more memorable, even if they are unoriginal. It still reeks of a combination of Darkthrone and Burzum, with very little unique input, but it is pulled off more successfully than in the past.

"...Our Sons Shall Rule the Empire of the Sea..." starts with one of the better tremolo melodies found on the album, and possesses more of a sombre and epic feel. The riffs still have a familiar quality, but that is to be expected from a musician of such limited vision. Despite whatever pretentious goals he may have had, Akhenaten is still hardly capable of more than hero-worship. This particular song is more complex than any other that he had written, up to this point, and the result is fairly decent. It maintains a mournful atmosphere throughout, leaving the listener in an introspective mood.

Of Great Eternity is not a bad album, but it seems pitiful that it took Akhenaten three tries just to display even a minimal level of competency in songwriting and musicianship. This would have made for an acceptable debut effort, showing a little bit of potential while also paying homage to those who inspired the creation of Judas Iscariot, but to possess such little original thought and to still be so mired in obvious imitation is slightly embarrassing. This is an average album, neither good nor bad, but certainly an improvement when compared to the band's earlier works.
 
(7 Oct. 2011)

 
 

The fourth full-length album from Judas Iscariot, Distant in Solitary Night, is considered by many to be the pinnacle of the band's career. In actuality, that distinction probably belongs to this record's predecessor, Of Great Eternity. That one was the first to finally focus on Black Metal, rather than allowing a decent handful of Death Metal riffs to infiltrate the work. While not all that great, it was also much more consistent than the albums before and after it. The playing was a bit more competent as well. This makes sense, as Distant in Solitary Night was originally recorded in 1996 and intended to be the band's third album. Since Judas Iscariot had already released two albums that year, Moribund Records delayed the release of this one until June 1998. As such, the playing is a little sloppier and the songwriting is rather poor. It just goes to show that, when it comes to something that pathetic as the bulk of American Black Metal, it does not take much to impress people.

The album begins with "The Wind Stands Silent", sticking with Akhenaten's traditional approach of clumsily ripping off Transilvanian Hunger. One would think that after spending several years attempting to imitate this sound that he would have gotten better at it. Sadly, this is not the case. This song consists of mediocre tremolo-picked riffs, inadequate drumming that does not do well to maintain a steady pace and vocals that seem somewhat disconnected from the music. This track does not accomplish anything, for the most part. It is flat and uninspiring.

"Where the Winter Beats Incessant" displays a horrible drum beat that sounds about as non-Metal as it gets. Otherwise, this is yet another failed experiment to capture an atmosphere similar to the old Burzum albums, utilizing some of the same types of riffs. However, the dominant guitar melodies are completely different and have very little to do with anything regarding Black Metal. The transitions between the different riffs are horrible or simply non-existent, as Akhenaten stumbles from one idea to the next, with no real sense of direction. This is one of the worst songs that this guy has ever recorded.

The next song returns to an earlier mistake of falling back on Death Metal riffs. "The Black Clouds Roll Under the Parapet of the Sky" is a clear indication that Akhenaten had no ability to discern between Black and Death Metal. This is a fast-paced track, for the most part, until the latter half. The song concludes following a handful of generic riffs that go nowhere.

"The Clear Moon, and the Glory of the Darkness" comes off as a really terrible effort to create a song like Burzum's "Naar Himmelen Klarner", from Det Som Engang Var. It is an instrumental that features boring guitar melodies, accompanied by synth, that serves no real purpose and fails to evoke any real feeling. The best that it can manage is to make listeners go listen to old Burzum, in order to see how it is supposed to be done. The drums are totally absent from this track, thankfully, but Akhenaten is unable to keep his mouth shut for the entire thing, overcome by the urge to cry near the end. Perhaps, he was weeping because the utter uselessness of his life was becoming apparent.

This is followed by a short track, "To the Black Tower of Victory", which speeds things back up and returns to the standard Judas Iscariot formula for bad Darkthrone imitations. The riffs sound as if they have been heard before, and probably done far better the first time around. This really lacks any character of its own.

"In the Bliss of the Eternal Valleys of Hate" is a weird song that employs a bit of old school drumming, though Akhenaten is so inept that he can hardly pull it off. It is unfortunate that he could not see that his low level of musicianship was even worse than his pathetic songwriting abilities. The song speeds up, later on, though it lacks any sense of intensity since the drumming is inconsistent and the guitar playing is sloppy as well. This really is a mess and it would be quite sad if anyone ever heard this and thought it was representative of Black Metal.

The final song is "Portions of Eternity Too Great for the Eye of Man". What a pretentious title. Even worse, this is not even a real song. It is twelve minutes of filler, just to pad the total running time of the album. It is an outro that just keeps going and going, with random noises and some guy speaking nonsense.

Distant in Solitary Night is trash. There was no need to release this as a full album, other than to try to cash in on the band's minimal popularity among those in the underground with bad taste. "The Winds Stand Silent" was already released on the Arise, My Lord E.P. in 1996. As painfully generic as that song is, the rest of the material here ranks even lower and there is no justifiable reason to pollute record stores with filth such as this. Avoid at all costs.
 
(25 Oct. 2011)
















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