Other than being a young blood on the review team here, I’m a young blood in general, meaning that I popped onto this rock just around the time death metal was in its youthful heyday, and was introduced to it late, more or less in its modern form, without any experience with its gritty adolescent years. For the most part, the 90s sound is a relic for me, fossil evidence of the gradual evolution of death metal. Warfather seems determined to re-educate me. The throwback quartet, headed by ex-Morbid Angel bassist/vocalist Steve Tucker, has crept onto my radar with a name too ridiculous to pass by and a sound 90s enough to warrant a presidential apology to the American people.
If Orchestrating the Apocalypse has one thing going for it, it’s riffage. The album abounds with rough, chromatic riffs which, although a far cry from original, lend each song enough backbone to carry what is overall a pretty standard affair. Homogeneity is the name of the game here, but fear not, for the lack of surprises makes way for a consistency in thematic elements and tone, which have the potential to place this album just over the border of mediocrity.
Macabre, often inhuman-sounding choral elements sporadically rear their head, most notably on “My Queen Shall Not Be Mourned,” and the album’s various sub-minute interludes. When contrasted with the continuously well-executed, though disgustingly loud, growled vocals, a sense of horror leaks into otherwise stale, overwrought tracks, and propel some songs to just short of excellence, especially the semi-melodic “Waltz of the Solstice,” this album’s diamond in the rough. It’s a very dense strata to pull a diamond out of though, since the entire back half of the album shifts between boring and tired, with only the occasional Nile riff to wake the listener. It’s not only uninteresting, it’s very unsophisticated, but that lack of sophistication is actually a bit charming and effectively consolidates the band’s sound.
The production does a damn good job of sounding raw; it’s full of static and decidedly low-fi, putting emphasis on the buzzing guitar tone. The term “old school” quickly rises to the lips in description. In fact, the sound harkens back to the antediluvian times before God created low-end, meaning many of the riffs have less the feel of roaring thunder and more the feel of a methane-bathed canary.
Sadly, that same punch is lacking in the drums, which sound at best abrasive and at worst, produce a rubbery kind of “piff.” Because of the lack of low end, the bass drum gets a lot of attention, which would be great if any of its thousands of hits were unique. One might expect that all of this sonic scoop has been performed to highlight the album’s varied and nuanced basswork, but it hasn’t and there’s no evidence that such a thing exists. I’m forced to take it on faith that the bass is there unless I have the album blaring through headphones.
Overall though, the biggest problem isn’t the bass being relatively nonexistent, it’s the drums being incredibly inconsistent. Across the board they’re the sonic equivalent of spam, but apart from how terrible they sound, the actual drum parts vacillate between stereotypical blast beats and offbeat snare hits, to a muddled, barely rhythmic mire of pops and puffs. At certain points, they appear to have almost nothing to do with whatever else is going on, but at others they’re quite competently handled. I really have no idea what the rhythm section as a whole is doing throughout most of the disc.
At first glance this album seemed to me a ridiculous jab at the past, a washed-out musician’s feeble attempt to relive his VHS-era glory days. And it might still be one, but I can’t say it’s terrible. There are some really strong moments here, and despite how unremarkable and occasionally bad the songs and performances are, as a whole Orchestrating the Apocalypse hasn’t failed to produce an evil and macabre slab of death metal worthy of wistful flashbacks to bygone days.
This might be stereotypical, hackneyed, predictable, even uncreative, but it stares you straight in the face and dares you to resist occasionally enjoying this cliché made flesh, this little silver disc full of regrettably enjoyable bad death metal.