Toby Knapp continues his lone journey to thrash the charred soul of black metal into dust. “Terror Decree” marks the fourth full length outing under the Waxen moniker and finds him dexterously laying waste to all in his path. This album also serves up four bonus tracks albeit under his Affliktor alias. Those familiar with his work will find little in the way of surprises but there’s a lot to be said for his reliability to deliver and make his own unique mark on the underground metal landscape.
Thin, industrial guitars before a howling, echoed black metal attack announce “Denier”. The rhythm is interesting with the bass bouncing along giving it an almost punk quality but there’s still that familiar iciness to the main riff. A fuller sound appears on “Wir Kampfen” with its more classic black metal sound and spiralled, churning riff. Frenetic twists give it that typical Knapp quality along with some serious shredding that punctuates the track. One of the earlier highlights is the title song where muscles are truly flexed; chainsaw guitar with a driving bass and contorted vocals abound before he locks down a real groove that almost leans on the NWOBHM whilst still keeping one foot in the lo-fi evil of Bathory sounding territory.
Throughout, he injects each track with often sublime, elegant guitar solos that have a warmth among what are very cold sounds. This might seem at odds but actually works beautifully in the same way some artists will use light and shade by drawing quieter passages in between outright heaviness. Some of these moments could almost be described as pretty such is the ease with which he seems to peel these breaks off. The risk of self indulgence doesn’t appear despite the clear ability to do so should he wish and this keeps these tracks focussed into tight, often unrelenting attacks. “Arc Of Abomination”, one of the longer tracks at a little over five minutes, is a case in point and keeps delivering. The coarse vocals are kept in the background as a sonic maelstrom full of torment and horror unfolds.
A hardcore punk aesthetic starts to creep in on “I Pass Away” and “Tyrant Of Armageddon”, both full of chaos. These sorts of deviations keep the album from falling into monotony whilst maintaining the core themes favoured by Knapp. The Waxen element of the album is completed by “Conflagration Elite” and it’s propulsive grind pushed along with a metronomic beat before breaking down to an almost doom metal pace. A tortured, Slayer styled guitar scream brings it back to its urgent stride.
Four tracks under the Affliktor banner form the bonus content entitled “Blade From The West”. All are an extension of the general chaotic, aural malevolence with the exception of final track “Fortress Of Zhongma”. Eerie, whispered introductory vocals grow into angelic sounding backdrops. Full of atmosphere and mysticism, a much cleaner riff comes in and the style is more early 80’s heavy metal with shades of Iron Maiden.
The whole concept of Waxen is best described as artful. Knapp seems to come across as a singular minded musician and this is reflected in the music. Whilst extremely atmospheric with simmering aggression there’s a thin, DIY component that gives it an authenticity which invites and then batters the listener only making the music and him all the more intriguing. The ability to craft moments of Joe Satriani styled prettiness amidst burning angst is intriguing and suggests a mind that is in constant motion. Oh, to hear this live with a full band behind him…
(7/10 Johnny Zed)