Sometimes the way you first experience an album is everything. Back in 2013, after finally returning from an extended work trip where I had limited internet access (and thus, no ability to hear new metal releases), Thränenkind’s The Elk took my deprived ears by storm with its Agallochian mix of weepy post-rock and crusty post-black metal. After months of only listening to whatever -core was stored on my iPod at the time, I was captivated, and the German quintet’s debut ended up being one of my favorite albums that year. Three years later sees me in an entirely different set of circumstances: working an exhausting job I hate in a city I hate even more, mashing buttons through life and trying to maintain some semblance of humanity. It’s fitting that this mindset seems to be just the theme of Thränenkind’s sophomore effort King Apathy. Vastly improving on its already excellent predecessor, Apathy effectively blends post-rock, post-metal, crust, and black metal in a tightly wound 46 minutes that depicts the struggle of remaining an emotional being in a society that seems more inclined to press us into dead-eyed, clock-punching drones. The result, frankly, is one of the strongest and most emotionally gripping albums I’ve heard in years.
In comparison to Elk, Apathy is heavier and more effectively blurs the line between its softer and harsher moments. The ten tracks are a rainy-day parade of glistening and sorrowful leads, vibrant riffs and gallumping chords, reflective clean picking, peppy mid-tempos and hammering not-quite-blastbeats, along with blissful Mantle-like melodies which occasionally ascend in the background. The ‘post-black’ tag may lead one to believe they’re in for shoegazey fuzz, but that’s not the case – Apathy is clear, riffy, and tightly performed, sounding more like a superior version of that Seagrave record I reviewed last year than any Alcest clone.
Opener “Desperation” showcases both the impeccable songwriting and guitar-work from the start, beginning with lonesome clean picking that crests into the sweetest melodic post-blackness this side of Harakiri for the Sky. Follow-up “King Apathy” slides slabs of mechanical guitars atop one another before incorporating more shiny leads and concluding with a prominent melodic bassline atop wafting chords, while early highlight “Ghosts” features an excellent cycling guitar motif in the verses. For such a diverse style, it’s amazing that jarring transitions are nowhere to be found. In fact, every crusty burst and autumnal post-rock interlude feels like it couldn’t possibly be placed anywhere else, with penultimate track “Vanishing Youth” being perhaps the best example. Building with terrific guitar/drum interplay for nearly three minutes, its glassy melodies eventually give way to a spoken word segment and a battering finish, before culminating with vocalist Nils Groth rasping the line ‘Dismiss whatever insults your true self!’ with commanding conviction.
From highlights like “Drifter” to closer “Homeruiner,” the guitar-work here is consistently excellent, but it’s both the lyrics and Nils’ vocals that put Apathy a step above. Akin to the strained roar of Altar of Plagues, Nils sounds like he’s on the verge of an emotional breakdown at all times, desperate to crack his shell of numbness that’s been conjured from years shuffling amidst sullen, exasperated faces in a world of gridlock and concrete. With lines like ‘There must be something more!’ and ‘Dead inside/But full of life!,’ the lyrics are pure heart-on-your-sleeve: free of jumbled images or ham-fisted metaphor, and delivered with a clear view of the pent-up desperation that comes when life starts to feel like nothing more than a series of trivial conflicts and petty social circumstances. Elsewhere they might inspire cynicism; here, the forthright delivery and superb musical backing makes that impossible. The crisp, clear production supports this theme, as well: the guitar tone and thumpy drums make it feel vaguely mechanical, while the smooth clean picking and leads are drenched with emotion and vibrancy.
Over multiple listens, I searched for flaws like a tongue prodding for canker sores, and came up with nothing. Apathy is the rare album where every second of playtime is utterly engrossing, and yet the fluid, dynamic songwriting ensures it never becomes exhausting. It’s the rare album that combines exemplary performances and compositions with a resonant theme and more emotion than a thousand ‘true kvlt’ black metal records combined. And it’s the rare album that I consider perfect.