Apostate are one of the Ukraine’s oldest doom bands, but have only released one full-length prior to Time of Terror. Forming in 1993, they suffered a series of splits before eventually reforming this millennium to release 2010’s Trapped in a Sleep. This was a flawed but entertaining album, mixing My Dying Bride and old Paradise Lost influences with classic Candlemass riffs to create a distinctly upbeat brand of doom/death. Five years later, Apostate have undergone a change of both personnel and image. The mystical, dreamy artwork of Trapped in a Sleep has been replaced with blunt, horrific images of death, while only bassist Olexandr Kostko and vocalist Bohdan Kozub remain in the lineup. These subtle hints led me to expect a slight change in musical direction, because I am deeply in tune with art and meaning and stuff.
Naturally I was correct. Time of Terror is still a doom/death album, complete with the early Peaceville Three influences, but the music is slower and heavier, with any notion of positivity removed. The odd Candlemass riff creeps in every so often – most noticeably on “Memory Eclipse” and parts of “World Undying” – but for the most part Time of Terror stays slow and sorrowful, nestling somewhere between Anathema’s Serenades and My Dying Bride’s Turn Loose the Swans. The synths that stood out so prominently on the last album have gone entirely, the band preferring twin guitars to express their sadness, and all clean vocals have been ditched in favor of tortured growls. Perhaps the most surprising new element, though, is the black metal influence, which adds another dimension to Apostate’s sound and fits very well with their new aesthetic.
These changes have been integrated well, and musically this is a vast improvement on Trapped in a Sleep. Each song is over nine minutes long, but the arrangement and song development is implemented well enough to keep you depressed but interested throughout. The black metal sections help in this respect, but are most effective when they catch you off-guard as at the end of “Solar Misconception” or in the middle of “Pain Served Slow” (some work on song titles is still needed it seems). The interplay between the two guitars more than makes up for the loss of keyboards, while the occasional use of eerie samples generally works, adding to that nineties feel.
The production, however, is distinctly non-nineties. This is the worst sounding record I’ve reviewed here – perhaps among the worst I’ve listened to. Early nineties doom/death is hardly known for its wonderful production values, and this roughness can add to the depressive atmosphere – the guitars on Winter’s Into Darkness sound like a caterpillar farting through a sock but goddammit if it doesn’t work in context. The issue here isn’t a low budget or muddy recording though; at DR3 and with several tracks at DR2, Time of Terror is one of the least dynamic records we’ve reviewed, and boy does this one hurt.
Fallujah’s notorious The Flesh Prevails also achieved DR3, yet sounded reasonable enough (debatably) as the mastering was handled by a good engineer. Time of Terror’s mastering was not handled by a good engineer. When I first listened to it I assumed there was something wrong with my headphones, but when I looked at the audio file waveforms, all became clear – the entire mix has been cranked up then brick-wall limited to such a degree that the waveform is square in many places, introducing all sorts of deeply unpleasant distortion. Not only have the dynamics been totally killed, the mastering-induced distortion both obscures the instruments and makes this painful to listen to for any length of time, even at low levels (ironically enough there is very little, if any, digital clipping).
This is such a shame because I really enjoy the music. I have a soft spot for old-school depressive doom/death, and this new incarnation of Apostate does the style very well. They deserve better than to have their album ruined by a terrible mastering job. If Ferrrum.com get their act together and release a remaster that doesn’t sound like nutsack, I would wholeheartedly endorse this and give it more points out of five. Give it a listen if you have hardy ears, but I just can’t recommend it in its current state.