Nick Vasallo – Apophany Review

Nick Vasallo has been making music in the Bay Area for more than 20 years. He is best known as the guitarist and vocalist of deathcore legends Antagony, as well as tech death outfit Oblivion. Perhaps less well known, at least in metal circles, is his interest in musical theory and composition, which he studied extensively, ultimately being awarded a doctorate in 2011. He now teaches at college level. This brief bio perhaps gives some context for Apophany, a hybrid metal-classical album and the follow up to 2012’s Monuments Emerge. A decade on, Apophany, sees Vasallo expanding his already considerable vision to something altogether more symphonic and much harsher, collaborating with an array of university orchestras and new music ensembles in the process. Does it, as the promo blurb promises, “strike with precision (Vasallo is a certified martial artist, after all)”?1

Apophany, like its predecessor, is an exploration of styles and musical forms, drawing on a range of influences. In many ways, I think, it is the harshness of extreme metal expressed in classical form. It is to classical music, what Nasum is to U2. An uncomfortable listen for most of its mammoth run—it clocks in at 80 mins—the album oscillates between harsh, yawing discordance (“When the War Began” and “The Moment Before Stretches on Forever, Like an Ocean of Time…”) and rumbling percussion and drone (“Ein Sof” and “ATUM”). An eerie, jarring and challenging listen, Vasallo only occasionally relents, like on the semi-operatic choral composition, “The Prophecy” (with Washington State University Concert Choir and soloist Rodrigo Cortes). Frankly, I found Apophany a deeply uncomfortable, and in large part anxiety-inducing, listen.

‘Apophenia,’ from which Apophany derives, refers to the tendency in humans to seek patterns where none exist, with something like roulette a common example. I think this is what made me so uneasy throughout much of Vasallo’s work, as I desperately looked, nay hoped, for a pattern to emerge that I could cling to and use to structure my reaction to Apophany. With a couple of exceptions, however, Vasallo is not of a forgiving mien. There are few compromises here and even fewer fucks given for the listener’s (or ailing reviewer’s) nerves. While I wouldn’t describe “The Prophecy” as a compromise, the lush vocal arrangements certainly stand out from the rest of Apophany’s almost entirely instrumental run, and offer eleven glorious minutes of respite in the maelstrom. Similarly, the jagged, experimental metal/classical stylings of “Ozymandias” and tech-classical noodlings of “Black Swan Events” feel somewhat more familiar and manageable.

Apophany is a challenge, both to listen to and review, in two key respects. First, it is largely free form and unstructured, or at least it feels so to these completely untrained ears. It wanders, it marauds, it threatens, it whispers, it screams. Secondly, and this really compounds the first, it is so damn long. I like to think I can deal with challenging and experimental music2 but it needs to be expressed in digestible pieces. 80 minutes is a lot of any music and when the vast majority lacks any discernible structure or patterns, I am left adrift. While I was grateful for the likes of “The Prophecy” and “Ozymandias,” as islands in the storm, they felt weirdly out of place against the rest of Apophany. Sonically, it has to be said, however, that Vasallo nailed it. Apophany, produced, mixed and mastered by him with Zack Miley and Zack Ohren, manages the rare feat of sounding both grand and expansive, and also crushingly claustrophobic. It is harsh, lush and delicate by turns and as it needs to be. I was surprised that it did not return a higher DR.3

I did not enjoy my time with Apophany. I am not sure Vasallo intended me to. He wants, I believe, to haul the listener bodily out of their comfort zone, even as they kick and claw at the floor. Assuming that was his plan, he succeeded. And in so doing, Vasallo left me with a quandary: how do I score an album that I think achieved all the goals of its clearly talented creator but which has a couple of structural issues and which, more importantly, I found an unsettling, often unpleasant, experience and one which I have zero intention of ever returning to? See below.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Neuma Records
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: March 18th, 2022

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Who the hell writes this stuff?!
  2. Although in more lucid moments I realize I am probably kidding myself here.
  3. So much so, in fact, that I ran it through a couple of different meters but with the same result.
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