Aephanemer – A Dream of Wilderness Review

I’ve had the honor and fortune to cover some of my favorite albums ever on Angry Metal Guy. Tarot, Nightbringers, Reflections of a Floating World, and yes, Aephanemer’s Prokopton. The first three listed share an unfortunate trait – their follow-ups paled, by comparison or otherwise. It shouldn’t be a surprise that following up the best thing you’ve ever done is a tough task; no wonder some bands go in a different direction entirely. Aephanemer, freshly signed to Napalm Records, are not running from that legacy. Their third LP, A Dream of Wilderness, cements Prokopton’s polished symphonic melodeath as the French quartet’s core identity. It also confirms the act is anything but a one-album wonder.

The jump from debut Memento Mori to their sophomore juggernaut was a shock, even to a I-knew-them-when fan like me. Overnight, that raw, nascent sound blossomed into a luscious, bombastic package perfectly suited to their needs. It is this sound that Dream relies on, and if nothing else, it sets the floor very high as a result. When the growing curiosity of orchestral opener “Land of Hope” bursts into the familiar synth-laden melo-fireworks of “Antigone,” it’s apparent that Aephanemer have no intention of overhauling their core sound. And why should they? Martin Hamiche’s fret-blasting tapwork and Marion Bascoul’s rasping savagery. The arrangements and orchestration1 smartly organized around Lucie Woaye-Hune’s backbone bass and Mickaël Bonnevialle’s kit. The over-the-top, Kalmah-esque keys laid atop bright and charismatic riffs. The motherfucking earwvrms. It’s all back, and it hasn’t aged a day.

Of note is Aephanemer’s development of songs, now seemingly interested in more than bopping from chorus to chorus, the grower to Prokopton’s shower. Part of this is by necessity: next to Prokopton, Dream simply cannot escape a similar-yet-lesser feel when judged on the immediate impact of its bangers. In the end, that is the biggest drawback, despite being as enjoyable a listen as it is. The band instead opts for a more delicate approach, one that doesn’t ram every melody down your throat and shows intense care for the design and flow of its tracklisting. So many bands feel obliged to tick boxes, checking off “Fast One,” Stompy One,” “Ballad People Will Skip,” “Longform We Have No Business Playing” as they run down the record. Aephanemer dispenses with that bullshit. The cuts here reward repeat spins and feel specifically designed for this record, such that I’d only trim, not axe, the relative weak links (“Strider”, “A Dream of Wilderness”) on an already taut 42 minutes. The result is a spin that has grown on me so that I appreciate every track, despite initially failing to wow me on any track.

No song saw its standing improve so much as “Panta Rhei,” which did little for me as a lead single but excels within the context of the record. At this point, Aephanemer are so accomplished playing longer-form melodeath that it should surprise no one that the longest song on the record, “Roots and Leaves,” easily stands among “Of Volition” and “La Radeau de La Méduse” as album highlights. The track combines the many fantastic aspects of the record, suave and snarling, into one comprehensive jam. Mercifully, the album’s production always keeps up with Dream’s many faces. Both Dan Swanö and Mika Jussila return for mix and master, respectively, ensuring that the sophistication and breath-of-French-Riviera-air crispness so necessary to the act’s success returns here.

Yes, yes, I get that the jams aren’t quite the same, that your top-line melodies aren’t as immediately show-stopping as last time. In all truth though, if you only view this album through the lens of Prokopton, you will be underwhelmed, as I was when I first started listening. It’s only once I let go of the past that I started to value A Dream of Wilderness for what it does on its own. It’s a comprehensive melodeath tour-de-force that not only resists a post-peak drop-off but a post-label signing swoon as well. That’s as important a step as any in the band’s development, and it comes packed into a hell of a fun listen to boot. So in the end, nothing has changed. Aephanemer were — and are — one of my favorite bands; they should be one of yours too.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: FLAC
Label: Napalm Records
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: November 19th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. Sadly, not live. If ever a band could use a real orchestra appropriately, it’d be this one. ARE YOU READING THIS, NAPALM?
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