Anicon aren’t interested in black metal cosplay. They don’t do shoulder spikes and pig’s blood, nor is every day Halloween for the New York black metal outfit. This is hardly a rare thing for a black metal band—essentially all of their New York City peers in Krallice, Yellow Eyes and Pylatrous (with whom Anicon share members) are plainclothes operations. As the band said in a recent Invisible Oranges interview, “we would personally rather work on our music than our costumes.” And though it might not make for flashy press photos, it’s ultimately an asset rather than a liability for the band. Cultivating a look might be fun, but what’s even more fun is hearing a band of crackerjack musicians creating something complex, intense and powerful.
With their debut album Exegeses in 2016, Anicon delivered a debut that presented them as one of the best new bands in black metal. That might be saying both a lot and a little, given that black metal’s no longer a sound so easy to wrap one’s head around and it’s being played by literally thousands at this point. Then again, it’s a debut that came with the collective experience of four musicians whose careers have already yielded some outstanding records, making it more like a black metal supergroup than a band of underground upstarts. Entropy Mantra, their second full-length, is another blistering and layered piece of metal, a progressive and furious set of seven songs that find fertile musical ground to explore while maintaining an adrenaline-rush pace.
Where bands like Agalloch defined “atmospheric black metal” by their long instrumental passages and gorgeous orchestrations between climaxes, Anicon takes a different tack by using the standard guitar-bass-drums approach to build space within their stormy black metal passages. On a track like “Wither and Waste,” that might not be so apparent on first listen, their rapid-fire approach leaving little space to speak of. But they display moments of melodic complexity that, however brief, show that aggression can be more potent when allowed a moment of rest between their more brutal riffs. With “Drowned in the Mirage,” it’s even more pronounced, as there’s a greater attention paid to harmonies and letting a moment land, the dense wall of guitars creating a more accessible sound even amid a blizzard of tremolo picking. And nothing here is quite so majestic as “Names Written In Tar,” the array of guitars working in unison to build a wall that evokes classic shoegaze, and for that matter a rare moment of beauty.
When Anicon go for the jugular, however, they don’t miss. Entropy Mantra is a sophisticated black metal album that succeeds on the strength of its songwriting, but it’s still music that moves fast and thrives on darkness and menace. It’s not the whole of what Anicon does, but it’s a crucial part, and they’re exceptional at it. Perhaps this isn’t music that’s meant for pure escapism, but that’s not to say there’s no catharsis. Entropy Mantra is for those who look for something new on each listen and seek a deeper musical language.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.