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Despite its somewhat legendary status as one of the earliest female-fronted Dutch death metal bands Acrostichon remains a perennial underdog, and one of the scene's unsung heroes. Formed in Tilburg in 1989 the band around vocalist/bass guitarist Corinne van den Brand and guitarist Richard Schouten released only two albums, of which only “Engraved in Black” is mandatory. Both band and album would have made much more of an impact had this debut been released the way it was originally intended, and through a bigger label imprint. Unfortunately the record experienced delays relegating Acrostichon to obscurity in the process.

oldbandpicAcrostichon had the distinction of being one of the earliest Dutch death metal bands to have a frontwoman. They go as far back as by predating their Belgian/Dutch genre peers Pathology, who were fronted by a young Rachel Heyzer (later of Occult, Sinister and Infinited Hate), by a single year. Playing an elegant mix of death -, thrash – and doom metal “Engraved In Black” combines the best of all three genres. Above all Acrostichon specializes in crunchy riffing and pumping grooves. There isn’t much of a novelty factor to “Engraved In Black” besides its frontwoman. The idiosyncratic “Engraved In Black” remains one of Holland’s most underestimated debuts. It is considerably more ambitious and involving than some of the works of its more marketable peers. Ambiguous in its writing and beyond easily classification Acrostichon conjured an unmistakable dank and putrid atmosphere through relatively simple means.

Much like the Gorefest debut “Mindloss”, which in an ironic twist of fate Achrostichon lambasted for its archival nature, “Engraved In Black” for its majority consists of re-recorded demo songs, along with one new song written specifically for the session. “Engraved In Black” contains two songs from the 1989 “Epilogue” demo tape, one song from the 1990 “Prologue” demo tape, three songs from the “Acrostichon Live 1991” demo tape, and two songs from the “Lost Remembrance” demo tape from 1991. ‘Mentally Deficient’ and ‘Havoc’ both predate Acrostichon by several years, as they were re-recorded songs from United Brains, an earlier band of guitarist Richard Schouten. Next to these tracks from the band’s demo phase, ‘Zombies’ is an entirely new track detailing the band's love for horror cinema.

The usage of weeping melodies is one of the band’s considerable strengths. ‘Immolation Of the Agnostic’ fuses early death metal riffing with a clear nod to Black Sabbath’s self-titled anthem. ‘Walker Of Worlds’ sounds like a fusion of early Cathedral and Death. These melodies become especially strong when the band break into an unexpected blast part shortly after. ‘Dehumanized’ has a few moments of more throatier growling, and is more doom-oriented in construction. ‘Lost Remembrance’ is one of the most violent cuts of the record. ‘Zombies’, the sole new track on the album, is far more fluent in its transitions and possesses the widest dynamic range of all songs present. ‘Relics’ was named ‘Germinant Malefaction’ in an earlier incarnation. By and large “Engraved In Black” is a commendable cross-section of the band’s demo phase along with a new track.

One of Acrostichon’s most characterizing virtues was its unparallelled dynamic range, clever choices in song arrangements, and Corinne’s monstrous growl. Nobody in the Dutch death metal scene fused burly death metal, robust doom and pumping grooves as elegantly and convincing as they did. To top it all off the record exudes a sense of traditionalism in its thrash accelerations, and its nods to Black Sabbath. This happens most prominently in with the opening riff to ‘Immolation Of the Agnostic’, an obvious tribute to Black Sabbath’s legendary self-titled metal anthem. The majority of Acrostichon’s material sounds like early Death (“Leprosy”) and Incantation (“Onward to Golgotha”) with the occassional cavernous doom section. The vocals of Corinne van den Brand weren’t the deepest, or the most guttural - not even by 1993 standards - but her emotive delivery made them far better than the faceless grunters of the day.

“Engraved In Black” was recorded at R.S. 29 with death metal producer of the day Colin Richardson producing and Oscar Holleman engineering. As standard for the time the record comes with a crunchy guitar tone, thick oozing bass licks, and a commanding drum sound that was typical for the time. The earthy production is quite similar to that of Deicide’s self-titled debut, albeit that the tones are a lot murkier here. The handpainted artwork by Richard Schouten is often a point of contention but it fits the album wonderfully well. The album was released through French label imprint Modern Primitive in 1993 after close to a year of delays and setbacks. The record was re-released in 2013 on LP format with new (not necessarily improved) artwork and bonus demo material through Czech label imprint Doomentia Records

Had “Engraved In Black” been released in a timely manner and on a bigger label imprint its impact on the scene would have been significantly bigger. By the time Acrostichon released its debut Gorefest had released the positively enormous “False”, and was a year away from the divisive “Erase”. Sinister had released the stylistically similar but more demonic “Diabolical Summoning” the same year. That the record doesn commit itself to any specific subgenre is both its strength as its weakness. It doesn’t push itself quite as far as any of first two Dead Head albums, neither does it pigeonhole itself as purely death metal, and it is far too dynamic to be considered an early death/doom variant. “Engraved In Black” is all three at once, and its ambiguous nature probably explains why the record never found a wider audience, even within the death metal scene.

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Before drummer Wim Van der Valk formulated Centurian, he was part of the transitional outfit Inquisitor. Not only was the band famous for its condemnation of organized religion, Catholicism in particular - but also for featuring guitarist Erik Sprooten who would make a name for himself with Ancient Rites a few years down the line. Inquisitor existed from 1992 to 1996, and in that short time they released two studio demos, a live demo – and its sole cult album “Walpurgis – Sabbath Of Lust” through Belgian label imprint Shiver Records in 1996. The devilish, nearly hysterical falsetto vocals of Alex Wesdijk, and boycotting of shows helped in establishing the band’s reputation.

1545795_143139552523389_429390673075033842_nPrior to cutting its debut album Inquisitor released two studio demos “Blasphemous Accusations” (1992) and “Your Pain Will Be Exquisite” (1993). A live demo tape “Crush the Holy Church” was released in 1993 to stir further industry interest. Like many a debut “Walpurgis – Sabbath Of Lust” consists mostly of songs from the previous demo tapes, except ‘Deluge (The First Final Judgment)’ and ‘A Lifetime’s Lie’ that were omitted for a hitherto undisclosed reason. In many respects “Walpurgis” functions as a best-of anthology including three new songs. Even though Alex Wesdijk is a clear-cut speed metal singer Inquisitor is on many fronts of a more death metal persuasion.

A number of songs sound like Centurian songs in waiting, primarily cuts as ‘Consuming Christ’, ‘Jehova’s Downfall’, ‘Crypt Of Confession’ and ‘Fallen Missionary’ but they are thrashier than the latter. ‘Trial Of Denial’ has a more pronounced Iron Maiden influence in terms of riffing and bass guitar licks in its slower parts. The solo sounds as something you’d hear on Metallica’s “Kill ‘Em All”. ‘Consuming Christ’ and ‘Cry Of the Christians’ are the shortest tracks of the record. ‘Chaos In Eden’, ‘Unholy Seeds’ and ‘Inquisitor’ are far more compositionally dense in comparison to the rest of the album, the second of these is custodian to one of the album’s best solo moments.  Inquisitor plays much faster and heavier than the average thrash/speed metal band. For all intents and purposes they were a contemporary equivalent of Dead Head’s “The Feast Begins At Dawn”.

One of the record’s biggest strengths is just how unhinged and uncontrollably chaotic it sounds. Each of the songs is more decimating than the next, and the nearly hysterical falsetto vocals contrast heavily with the almost death metal that the band plays. Wesdijk and Van der Valk are the band’s calling cards, whereas Erik Sprooten plays far more evil sounding riffs at a truly relentless pace than his later work with Belgian death/black metal icons Ancient Rites would ever allow. Recurring in the post-Inquisitor band Centurian is the strong anti-religious sentiment but the latter outfit would draw inspiration from newer bands in the genre. Even though Inquisitor released a sole album in its original run said album was enough to establish its cult metal band reputation.

10496107_143110855859592_2102872788656278206_oThe album was recorded and mixed over a two-month period at R.S. 29 with Oscar Holleman and the band co-producing in 1995. Much like the Acrostichon album “Engraved in Black” it has a functional production that nevertheless is rough around the edges and not very tonally defined. Holleman’s production is adequate from a technical standpoint as all the instruments are distributed evenly in the mix - but in reality is nothing more than a slightly superior demo production. While the drum tone is far from the most optimal the crunchy guitar sound, and thick sounding bass guitar tone are what truly sells the record. Misja Baas was responsible for the amazing artwork. He had made a name for himself by providing visuals for the Marduk album “Those Of the Unlight”.

That Inquisitor only released a solitary album before its membership moved on to a full-blown death metal unit has only strengthened its cult status. The band’s entire recorded history: “Walpurgis – Sabbath Of Lust”, and its three preceding demos, were recently re-released by Dutch extreme metal label imprint Hammerheart Records. Even though its key members made a name for themselves with lauded bands as Ancient Rites and Centurian, Inquisitor reunited in 2014, with original bass guitarist Alex Bakker, and over a decade of inactivity seems to have only made them more dedicated and hungry.  With the renewed interest in traditional metal and the 20th anniversary of Inquisitor’s lone album coming up in 2016, it seems we haven’t heard the last of these Dutchmen.