The tying together of metal and classical music can be such a mutually beneficial endeavor. Classical’s range of instruments and diversity of mood with metal’s intensity and rhythmic prowess? A match surely made in Heaven. And yet it’s a match which can so easily become a torrid mismatch. Casio-grade keyboard-based “orchestras,” Casio-grade compositions and over-simplified chugging guitars can be stitched together in a manner which seems both futile and completely misguided. Akroma are a French band taking a stab at such divisive symphonic metal, balancing their orchestrations with technical metal which sits between black and death metal. They’ve been around the block for the past 10 years with 3 prior releases but Apocalypse Requiem is my virgin voyage with them. On which side of the divide do they reside?
The record opens with “Kyrie” but Mr. Mister this ain’t. The obvious reference points are Fleshgod Apocalypse or Spawn of Possession as classical music is worked into an extreme metal framework. Deathly grooves are used but blackened tremolo-picking and blast beating also feature. The greatest boon to Apocalypse Requiem is that the electric guitars undertake classical music themselves, rather than being relegated to rhythms and underlying chugs. This neoclassical approach recalls Fleshgod’s early work particularly. An exhaustive array of orchestral instrumentation fleshes out the remainder, most prominently spotlighting a range of strings, choirs, and operatic breakdowns, with more left-field picks such as harps and organs poking through the mix occasionally. As the guitars actively contribute to the classical parts of the album the two styles are indeed interwoven fairly seamlessly. “In Paradisum” is the clear highlight as it features a couple of good riffs, nice guitar-violin interplay and boasts a vaguely epic ending to both itself and the record.
Most tracks break down into quieter interludes periodically, with almost all utilizing the stripped-back operatic talents of Laura Kimpe. While not bad themselves, they, unfortunately, operate as crutches for tracks which outstay their welcome. They falsely accommodate overlong tracks by breaking apart quite bland songwriting. The pace and technicality of the heavy material, which borders on tech death, would be much more direct and impactful in shorter tracks which more clearly divide separate ideas. While the instrumentation is technically complex, the song-writing across entire songs isn’t, so their length is not justified. Only one track is less than 6 minutes. These quieter parts are also hampered by the distant shrieking of who I presume to be Alain Germonville. Their tranquility is diluted as his vocals are particularly audible.
This is an especial problem as I find them objectionable. While certainly idiosyncratic, they have an annoying, whiney quality which is the opposite of intimidating. And despite the guitars doing the neoclassical thing, the melodies and counter-melodies are largely uneventful. The removal of the symphonic instrumentation would, I think, expose to the harsh light of day some quite dreary technical extreme metal. It lacks the intense and majestic dark beauty of early Fleshgod but also the melodic sensibility of later Fleshgod. There’s a simple lack of quality across the writing despite technical proficiency. As mentioned, “In Paradisum” has its moments and a couple more are sprinkled throughout but there aren’t enough outstanding parts to come close to my recommendation. While its slower passages are reasonable, “Agnus Dei” is notably dull in its heaviness as nothing sticks once it’s finished.
So while Akroma may be at the correct end of symphonic metal by not melodically subjugating the metal completely, their music is simply unexciting. It’s tough to actively dislike but neither is there any reason to listen to this above myriad other extreme metal bands implementing symphonic elements, or even above other tech death bands. Apocalypse Requiem may not be the end of the world but neither will it be remembered.