What’s that racket? Oh yes, it must be the latest Autokrator release and boy have they turned things up a notch or two since last time round. When I say turned things up, of course, I don’t mean the bombastic death metal drone-noise that these noisy French sods have chosen to make their own. No, no, no – for it would not physically be possible to be more all-out, in-your-face blitzkrieg-batshit rowdy than this lot. The first outing was undoubtedly more an industrial death metal noise outing and was truly something special, if you like that sort of thing. Inspired by the history of the Roman Empire, its experimental vision of unrestrained power was powerful and darkly dystopian. The follow-up was in a similar vein but, despite its success in producing yet another reverberating and cacophonous nightmare, it teetered on having a lack of focus – which is something that cannot be said for Hammer of Heretics.

The vision of the band has tilted this time around into more of a recognisable death metal sound with a very blackened edge and more than a few tonnes of industrial strength noise in the mix. Mainly, that drone element comes in the form of some excellent martial percussion, which is almost worth snapping up this on its own, and some horrifically bleak and anguished samples that sound like a future world where things have gone very wrong indeed. Not to mention that tumultuous bass that drives like a scythe-armed bulldozer through the ranks of the unwashed, rioting masses. The effect reminds me of bands like Axis of Perdition and Anaal Nathrakh but without the bits of light relief. Yes, Autokrator, like its name would suggest is out for total and utter domination and Hammer of Heretics is its tool of deliverance. Opener Against Flesh and Blood is an undoubted highlight, introducing as it does the buzz saw black metal guitar riff before throwing down Autokrator’s punishing, atmospheric drill.

Autokrator seems to have slowly morphed into a collaboration between industrial black metal outfit NKVD’s Loïc.F and US vocalist David Bailey. But while the art of Autokrator undoubtedly hangs on the aural vision of martial hell created by the music, Bailey’s hoarse bellows are also something to behold adding a tortured anger to the clattering discord. The title track, the penultimate on the album, gradually unpacks Autokrator’s sound, as if for the first time allowing us to peek inside the utter complexity that lies within as razor sharp riffs clash with the battering bass before finally giving way to the march of war drums (courtesy of Benighted’s latest and clearly deranged drummer Kévin Paradis) and Bailey’s raw and infected vocals that dominate final track Inquisitio-Denunciatio-Exceptio.

Unearthly and horribly human at the same time, Hammer of Heretics takes Autokrator to another level even if the weird experimentation of the first two albums is perhaps what initially marked them out. This is an album that constantly grips as it sweeps through a spectrum of influences while at the same time sounding like a single unified sonic charge. Impressive, bleak – and, although perhaps less than the previous two releases, requiring some mental stamina to see it through from start to finish – if the end result is likely to be that you feel like you’ve been through a Japanese horror version of Terminator 2 where the baddies win and the end scene is a metal boot stamping on a human face forever.

(8/10 Reverend Darkstanley)