Since last album in 2017 ‘Liber Primus: Métempsychose’ I was lucky enough to catch French band Azziard live as support for Marduk. This proved to be a formidable performance and one that followed well in the live environment by what I had previously enjoyed as recorded output. Now they are back with new album Liber Secondus – Exégèse which as suggested “is the second act of the new cycle around the mysticism of the human psyche and its metaphysical aspects.” Don’t worry I am sticking to the music here rather than getting bogged down in Jungian theory and therapy which is a hefty enough subject matter in itself and when matched by the intelligence and forward-thinking music of the band shows that they have moved on from where they started with narrative from the First World War. With somewhere in the region of 14 band members already passing through their doors it has taken a while for them to consolidate their line-up into the quintet we have before us today but it seems that they have managed to keep things consistent as far as that is concerned since the first part of this conceptual triptych.

Bleak guitar tones take us in as we mourn ‘Seven Sermons to the Dead’ an instrumental opener full of sombre atmosphere complete with some sorrowful DSBM tears being shed. Production is instantly striking and the powerful sound here even if the calm before the storm packs a mighty punch. Once we fly into ‘Retrouvailles avec l’âme’ the soul of the music hits even harder, blast-beats and rugged swaggering might, filling in the spaces. Vocalist A.S..A still sounds his normal somewhat mad self with dictatorial barks and growls thickly flung out. There’s something about his vocal inflections here that remind a bit of Moonspell vocalist Fernando Ribeiro at his deadliest and most beastly. Don’t get me wrong, no croons here but just a fiery hunger which matches the music well. Also although not orthodox per-se in subject there are some creepy parts to the music which are atmospherically delivered to break up the fevered galloping and despite the fact they probably won’t be occultist narratively they have a similar effect and are comparable to other highly-regarded, black-hearted denizens within the French scene. Some background chants solemnly intone over the gravid rage of the main vocals on ‘The Three Prophecies’ and the tone is both angry and oozing with dread. Spitting out lines in French gives an air of mystery and one is tempted to look into deeper meanings here. Luckily these are easy to find as “The misery of war, the darkness of magic, and the gift of religion” are explored. Speed and trembling riffs are lethal and expertly delivered on ‘Incantation’ the vocal spells coming quickly and with deadly force as the five players seemingly form on points of a pentagram to co-ordinate their attack. Here we do actually get some more crooned out vocal parts too and there is plenty of versatility displayed within the at times eldritch summations the music provokes. The band also get away with a trick on two tracks by ending them on a powerful and bruising reverberating drum thwack. Perhaps this shouldn’t work but by the time the whirlwind frenzy of ‘The Scarlet Man’, very Mardukian in might at times culminates, it does, leaving you quite breathless.

There’s plenty going on here and it’s a dense and powerful album that keeps drawing me back. The combination of bettering force and strange and unsettling atmosphere is perfectly delivered and Azziard are most definitely on the ascent getting more and more confident over each of their albums. Culminating in ‘The Desert’ with hypnotic glistening guitar parts and a final heaving vocal diatribe this second part really hits the mark and leaves you anticipating the final chapter… but I guess we will have to wait patiently for that.

(8.5/10 Pete Woods)