Before I write this review, let me educate the non-American readers of this fine website about the amazing about-face that happens this time of year. Just one day before I finalized this review, our nation celebrated Thanksgiving, a day where we all sit around the table, eat turkey, unsuccessfully avoid all conversations about politics, and above all give thanks for what we have. I mention this because 24 hours later, a phenomenon known as Black Friday began. A day where all promises of thanks and gratefulness are dashed. People clog up malls and stores, beating the shit out of each other for expensive phones, crazy gadgets, and even $20,000 bottles of beer served in a squirrel’s carcass. What’s this got to do with the review at hand? Well, Denmark’s Aphyxion has been championed as “melodic death metal saviors” by the press, and on their second full-length, Aftermath, well… you can see where this is going, can’t you?
But first, the good. “Dark Stains on Ivory” bursts forth with youthful energy and some clearly enunciated growls by vocalist Michael Vahl. What comes next, though, lies the problem. The verse is carried by a repetitious chug of the open low string on the guitars, with only the chorus possessing any sort of melody whatsoever. A synthesizer, not the guitars, provides that melody, as the guitarists perform little more than breakdowns and open-string chugs. In fact, all of the pluses that Mark Z. touched upon in the review of their debut, Earth Entangled, are jettisoned almost entirely. That said, the band’s youthful energy propels the song forward, giving the song a much-needed breath of life.
And they need this breath of life, because Aftermath is largely forgettable, and those unforgettable moments border on the hysterically bad. The ESL lyrics consist of self-empowerment clichés, such as on “A Part of the Solution” (“Prepare for the upcoming riot/hear my words, your life has expired/your addictions is society’s rules/hear my words, YOU’RE A BLOOD-FUCKING FOOL!”), and “Same Kind of Different” (“So get this fucking straight/we are in this together, never alone/you are flesh, I AM BONE!”). “A Part of the Solution” also possesses one of the two guitar melodies on the entire length of Aftermath. The other, “As We Blacken the Sky,” stands out due to a reduced tempo. But overall, this album veers more toward deathcore territory than melodic death metal. Aftermath revels in one-note breakdowns so much that Xzibit would be impressed with the amount of breakdowns-within-breakdowns. In fact, I prematurely gave thanks that Aftermath lacked the genre’s pre-requisite bass drop, until 1:50 into “The Nature of Mankind” happened, and I not-so-silently wept into my cranberry sauce.
Aftermath’s production feels manufactured and robotic. The drums sound mechanical, and the bass, other than the aforementioned drop, is heard and not felt. Even if it came with a robust production, Aftermath suffers from too little variation and very little melody. Basically, this is Heaven Shall Burn without the variety or Mors Principium Est without the riffs and solos. When you’re championed as “melodic death metal saviors” and there’s no melody except for what your synth is programmed to play, that’s never a good sign. And while Mors Principium Est utilized a synth player in the past, they also backed it up with great songs.
Aphyxion are young and energetic, so hopefully they can work on their songwriting skills on the next go-around. Aftermath promised a new dawn for melodic death metal, and instead dashed them with simplistic riffing, banal songwriting, and very little in terms of melody. You know, that thing that makes melodic death metal what it is. And speaking of which, I’m going back to Dawn of the 5th Era for my modern melodic death metal fix.