At long last, the good death metal has come. We’ve heard a bloody glut of gruesome releases from the genre’s underground in the last month or so, with Depravity, Lik, Our Place of Worship is Silence, and Skeletal Remains hashing out reckless riffage and a deplorable worldview – and that’s just the releases I’ve listened to. While none of these albums are going to go down as modern classics, it’s heartening to see musicians still figuring out the formulas and successfully imprinting their own identity on what is unquestionably the world’s greatest form of music. And in that vein, it’s time to unsheathe your wallet and supplicate the hard-earned fiat currency of your worldly region before Apocrophex and their new record Æternalis.
I find it hard to place the Apocrophex sound; on one hand, the odd production and guitar tone scream DIY; on the other, there’s a progressive slant and songwriting sophistication that most bands at this level of obscurity can’t muster. Æternalis is a techy love letter to the –ations that nonetheless brings its own personality to the table, influenced by the modern New York scene. Perhaps it’s most accurate to say that Apocrophex sound like they’re from New Jersey – which they are. Like Mephistopheles, their idiosyncratic music channels the great death metal from their corner of the world without sounding derivative or predictable.
While the proggy melodies and songwriting take this record to the next level, the backbone of brutality is there from the beginning. “Where Temples are Older than Trees” starts the album at cruising speed with Immolation-style half-step leads and scrambling drumming provided by up-and-coming kit mercenary Kévin Paradis (whose impressive resume includes Benighted, Shining (Sweden), and Svart Crown). This introduction adds surprise to the album’s more adventurous cuts, like “A Sentient Edifice,” which finds itself caught between Suffocation and Artificial Brain, mixing old-school slam with processed vocals and twangy arpeggios.
Æternalis turns proggy around the middle, with cuts like “The Oracle Room,” “Sovereign Symbol,” and “Pareidolia” each packing their own surprise. “Sovereign Symbol” turns straight from Cynic-al to caustic with a quick Incantation-style dirge, while “The Oracle Room” pays its dues to Gorguts. These songs add depth and nuance to this LP, but more crucially, are just fun and exciting to hear- both for the first time and for the fifth. Apocrophex twist through so many influences so quickly that it becomes impossible to predict their movement, and a savvy death metal fan can come up with a dozen name-drops more than I’ve even included here while listening to these winding compositions.
An idiosyncratic production job proves perplexing at first, but I’ve come to see it as one of the strengths of Æternalis. While there’s a lot of bass playing going on here – and good playing at that, it’s mostly inaudible when the guitars sound off. The guitar tone is an odd mix between the sharp, piercing high-end favored by Immolation and the scratchy low-gain of Mephistopheles, yet it still musters the heft needed to pull off the slams in “Sentient Edifice.” Both guitarist/bassist Justin Buell and vocalist Pete Colucci run wild with experiments, with Buell deftly stitching licks from every band in the book together and Colucci throwing rasps, growls and even croons into the mix. He does a great brutal death roar as well as a killer Luc Lemay impression at one point, and though his cleans are as idiosyncratic as the rest of the album, they’re used at just the right times. Kévin Paradis complements this well, with a performance that feels scrappy but well-versed in the styles of bands Apocrophex most often borrow from.
Æternalis takes a moment to get used to but grows and grows on you. While just shy of excellence, it proves well-worth revisiting and one of the best death metal releases of the year, easily positioning itself among the great releases from this Spring. It’s a good time for good death metal, and this album keeps that streak rolling. Even if you’re still overwhelmed by the sheer number of solid releases in the genre in the past few months, take the time to buy Æternalis, because the well can only flow for so long.