WaxenThis is the long awaited sophomore album from one man, black metal-ish project Waxen. I must admit that Waxen are a new name to me, but having dug a little deeper, it is no surprise that there has been 7 years between albums. Waxen, it turns out, is none other than Toby Knapp, American virtuoso six-stringer who seems to have covered almost all metal genres in his illustrious yet underground career, and has appeared in a huge list of different bands. Knowing this, it is also not too surprising that this is black metal with a twist, seeing as Mr Knapp can turn his hand to just about anything metallic (I don’t think he ever stooped to writing `Nu Metal’ however).

Fans of extreme metal have nothing to fear here. Although Toby Knapp does indeed feature in melodic and NWOBHM influenced heavy metal bands, this is no `black metal lite’. Instead it is as raw, grim and dark as you would hope for, yet a lot more creative than you might expect. In fact, there are quite a few different influences present on this album. I am particularly struck by the large black/thrash element, noticeable on all tracks, Knapp has woven some truly wicked, neck-breaking and also memorable riffs throughout. There are influences of classic Slayer here, as well as a hint of early Death. He has also mastered the cold, epic and malevolent feel of Scandinavian black metal; there are plenty of furious, fast-picked, sweeping minor chords and frantic, relentless drumming (although it is programmed), as well as some downright nasty, jarring dissonance.

Knapp’s voice is an echoing, distant rasp, delivered with convincing evil and malevolence, sounding for all the world like a demented, undead creature gurgling at the full moon. The production also compliments the music, being a great balance between mid-range, cutting black metal sound, and a clear, well-produced, heavy album. Even though the drums are programmed, great care has been put into making them sound authentic, and if I hadn’t looked up the details, I would not have known the difference (apart from one or two small spots on the album where it sounds like a pneumatic drill has been used instead of a drum machine). Hats off to the virtuoso guitarist also, for not making this a self-indulgent masterpiece in self-congratulation. The album feels like a genuine, grim, extreme metal album rather than an exercise in musical showing-off. He’s resisted the urge to make it too technical or impenetrable, instead concentrating on great song writing which balances brutality with melody, crushing riff repetition with excellent dynamics. Personally, I think this one man band has a lot to proud of with `Agios Holokauston’

(8/10 Jon Butlin)