Grab your plush Cthulhu, throw away your textbooks on Euclidean geometry, pack a few snacks, and look reanimated, folks: the Dissonance Train to R’lyeh with a temporary stop in Obscura-ville is now boarding. If there are two things that seem to captivate plenty of minds in modern metal on the extreme side of the fence, they’re H.P. Lovecraft stories and how to translate the outer reaches of sanity into music via an incredible amount of dissonance. Danish death metallers Apparatus are on this train as well, and we should all be nice to them because they brought the Teddy Grahams. Oh, and because their eponymous full-length debut is a damn fine slab o’ death as well.
Apparatus play something that will at first blush sound like a casserole of three popular and dissonant death metal acts: Portal, later Gorguts, and Ulcerate. Given that this stuff is so common nowadays, one would be hard pressed to care. Luckily the band seems to have realized this, and spiced Apparatus up with some welcome outside elements from both black and death metal, along with some variety on the vocal front. These aren’t huge or revolutionary changes by any means, but they’re implemented well and see the band consciously attempting to distance themselves a little bit from the sub-genre’s standards to carve out a space of their own.
It’s in this appropriation of different elements into the typical diss-death framework where the band shines. “The Unreverberate Blackness of the Abyss” begins on a Portal-meets-Ulcerate crawl and ends with a lead that could’ve appeared somewhere on The Destroyers of All, but Apparatus contrasts the dissonance with clean vocals doing “ooohs” in a less threatening melody. This is intriguing and smartly implemented as to not be different for the sake of it, but instead become a valuable addition to the song. At the other end of the spectrum, “King God” rides some frantic Hate Eternal riffage successfully, capitalizing on the momentum with a vicious vocal performance that recalls Rutan near the top of his fury. The bridge of “Dissecting Temporal Dimensions to Afflict the Abyssi of Chronos” becomes a highlight due to some Attila-styled chanting that reminds of “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” by sounding like an eerie hymn to dark forces instead of trying to create an obvious hook. Although there’s plenty more to like here, it’s “Prayer” that takes the crown for Apparatus‘ best track. The slow parts of the song are a sinister crawl that recall Monotheist and drop the whole dissonance thing almost entirely to focus on being crushing before heading into the inevitable increase in speed and Negativa leads, which are also some of the record’s best.
While Apparatus doesn’t have any damning problems, there are a few issues preventing it from reaching the heights the band seems capable of. Introductory piece “Sermon I” overstays its welcome, building tension and then deflating it by droning on for three minutes. “Sermon II” fares better due to being less than two minutes, but it still comes off as a superfluous interlude, and “Sermon III” has some interesting vocal melodies but isn’t anything to marvel at. “Spheres” veers a bit too closely to Portal worship before it makes an effort to distinguish itself with some demented free-form piano that walks the dangerous line between disquieting and unintentionally funny, drawing the image of a drunk man ruining a posh house party by attempting to be a free jazz master. Likewise, “R’lyeh” is good but sounds like Portal via Apparatus for its majority, paling in comparison to the more adventurous stuff the band does elsewhere on the record.
It’s not perfect, but Apparatus presents a captivating take on the heavily dissonant brand of death metal. The production values suit the music well with hefty drums and big, murky guitar tones that remain clear enough to hear the nearly constant and admirably deft interplay between Thomas Fischer and Jakob Larsen. Apparatus‘ music has a compelling character that drew me back into the abyss time and again, striking a solid balance between riffs and atmosphere that’s all too often ignored in this realm of metal. It takes a few listens to pick out all of the intricacies, and I was left more impressed after my tenth listen than after my first. This death metal did not leave me daydreaming, and if this type of music turns your crank Apparatus comes recommended.