Berlin’s ANCST play a near perfect fusion of black metal and crust punk. Their music is driven, unrelenting, explosive, abrasive, and full of hate. Their fifth album, Summits of Despondency, is apex predator extreme music and a serious contender for album of the year.
Black metal might not seem like a good match for crust punk, but the two have a lot in common. ANCST demonstrate this by using both styles’ common elements of ultra-fast tremolo picking, similarly savage drumming, and a lo-fi production aesthetic. It gets topped off screamed vocals that speak of both Satanic anguish and political anger in the same tortured breath. This “blackened crust” might not be a perfect combination all the time, but you can really see how ANCST make it work on “Kill Your Inner Cop” (how’s that for a topical title?) and “Inferno.”
ANCST vary the tempos quite a bit from their general all-out onslaught. Tracks like “Final Hour” have slow and mid-tempo mosh segments in the bridge. “Monolith” closes Summits of Despondency with a crashing, epic doom metal piece. And there are flickers of melody in “Praising the Realm of Loss” and “Monotony of Anguish.” ANCST still keep these signs of restraint to a minimum, as they serve to illuminate an ambient plane of resolute darkness. Make no mistake: this album is heavy stuff.
ANCST have always been a political band. They move against the black metal current and instead take a crust punk left-leaning stance. Besides the aforementioned “Kill Your Inner Cop”, “Denazification” has lyrics that with surprisingly little scatology heap outright hatred and unholy damnation upon those who embrace the far-right. Still, politics are not the only thing covered in the album. “Inferno” and “Praising the Realm of Loss” deal with the more familiar black metal topic of nihilism, while “Final Hour,” “The Burden of Hope,” and “Razed Eden” refer more to environmental anxiety, Of course, the music always stays at the forefront, but the savagery of the lyrics also serves to underscore the many punishing riffs and the album’s relentless aural violence.
Heavier subgenres of metal always risk becoming parodies of themselves. The things that make music sound “heavy” are conventions that tend to be overplayed and over-emphasized. To craft a “heavy” album with true artistic merit is therefore a huge challenge, and ANCST have done risen to the ocassion. The result is an album that manages to stay brutal most of the time, while also managing to slow down when it has to. Summits of Despondency is an essential listen for lovers of all things dark and violent, and one of the best albums of 2020.