Of all of the bands and all of the musicians that have come out of retirement in attempt to cash in on their past, Judas Iscariot’s Akhenetan (Andrew Harris) has been one rare exception who has truly vanished into the depths of obscurity for good. Responsible for starting the careers of both Moribund Records and Krieg, Harris’s Judas Iscariot was once the most popular American black metal band. Formed in the days where Euronymous was still alive, JI played in the long-form Darkthrone style and memorably used (albeit poorly understood) Nietzsche Nilisist lyrics. But after a celebrated career of mediocre black metal was capped off with a wild family campaign scandal in 2002 (more on that in a moment), Akhenetan laid down his axe and disappeared forever.
But in an age where metal thrift-stores like Nuclear War Now! and their cronies will resell whatever refurbished sonic garbage they can find, Ascension Monuments Media has decided to dig up the rotted corpse of Judas Iscariot for another dose of record store necrophilia. Run by none other than Nachtmystium’s Blake Judd (oh shit! hide your wallets!), AMM is re-releasing tons of old Judas Iscariot vinyls and a super secret, unreleased (rejected) album called An Ancient Starry Sky.
While Akhenetan himself remains in long board room meetings with corporate banker swine, Judd and his label have successfully wrestled away the rights to almost all the music not released by Moribund (whose royalty rights are locked away in a chest in Odin Thompson’s basement). So how does this material hold up nearly 20 years later, to a scene and a world that’s turned completely upside down? What can we expect from this latest endeavor of hipster metal mania? And just why did the most popular American black metal musician of the 90’s go into complete exile, never to return?
Musically, what was once impressive and cutting edge for black metal (especially from the good ‘ole red white and blue of the USA) has not withstood the test of time well, as Judas Iscariot’s sound and style has been surpassed by many better and more innovative bands over ten of the last twenty years (the first ten, of course). Furthermore, many bands of this age played this style even better (Antestor and Branikald for example) but did not have the same recognition. This is because times where different then… an age of mail orders, word of mouth, and one where the internet was barely used and not much info on metal was on it outside of Brett’s floppy disk uploads. Thus, those who missed Iscariot in the 90’s have almost certainly found something better by now.
But it will be interesting to see how this material is treated by the modern metal world, whose political and cultural climate needs no forwarding here. For as legend goes, Akhenatan was a shadowy figure who was at the center of American Black Metal. He ran a zine called The Nihilist Resistance and was a member of a very sketchy right wing political organization called The Pagan Front. This dose of political correctness would haunt him years before the days of America’s Antifa when his father, current Democrat Chicago appellate judge Sheldon Harris, would begin his first political campaign. This is because Andrew Harris, the son of Sheldon and true identity of Akhenetan, made a ludicrous $50,000 donation to a political ally of Sheldon’s. This money had to be returned when journalists outed the truth about Andrew being the hateful extremist behind America’s black metal network. From here, it was all out there- Akhenetan was not a mysterious being of pure evil but in fact, an insanely wealthy trust fund millionaire getting an art degree from the University of Chicago. In short, he was the 90’s version of Liturgy’s Hunter-Hunt-Hendrix and called it quits with Judas Iscariot to take an exotic multi year vacation in Germany.
Apart from trendy vinyl reissues of old albums, Ascension Monuments Media will be releasing two-sorta new vintage Judas Iscariot releases. One is a compilation of rarities called Proclamations of Intolerance and another is an unreleased album called An Ancient Starry Sky that was unreleased because, quite frankly, it was not as good as some other stuff Harris recorded on his 8-track. Both will be reviewed in the coming days, but for now- these cash grabs are paying off in spades as most of the re-releases are the top selling metal (some even the top selling music, period) on Bandcamp at the time of this writing.