Apothis get the gears turning from the outset. Their name is something of a nonsense word, a seeming combination of Apophis, the Egyptian god of evil and destruction (made famous in some circles by the MacGyver-fueled sci-fi show Stargate SG-1), and apotheosis, perhaps suggesting they find themselves at the height of death metal as a form. And if they play fast and loose with the English language (more on that later), their music is rather fast and tight, both a throwback to the jazz-influenced world of prog metal and a nod to modern scream-core and the like. On their eight-song debut album, Reflections and Symmetry, they give you 40-plus minutes of unpredictability. I’d advise against skipping from the middle of a song to the next track because you never know what you might miss.
|Reflections And Symmetry | Released by Apothis | at the Station, in Portland | with Absence of the Sun + Rebuilding the Ruins | July 12|
Okay, so there aren’t any Mary Poppins singalongs here, but you can find a bit of just about everything else. The multiple pace and melodic transitions in just about every song are made possible by some great work behind the kit from Nick Villacci (son of Civil Disturbance drummer Nikko), who has especially quick feet and uses the bass drum like a hammer. It’s the more impressive because the band recorded the album without a full-time bass player, leaving guitarist Sean McAfee and recording engineer Scott Webber to handle bass duties on the album (Johnny Conant is now with the band on bass). In the studio, they’re recording with click-track (a metronome, essentially), but I still think a good rhythm section generally needs chemistry to perform this well.
Right from the album’s opener, “The Compass,” the band put their range on display, opening with a repeating digital riff, slightly new-agey, before transitioning into some seriously heavy dual-guitar (McAfee and Sam Burke, who both play well throughout) thrash that gives way to chanting vocals that act as a quieter chorus of sorts. Then staccato punches bounce between the two channels as a bridge, before the band simply explode into 32nd notes for a final verse. For some bands, that’s grist for four different songs.
Apothis do, however, fall a little too much in love with these musical surprises. The first four songs here, for example, all basically open the same way: slow/spacey/quieter lead-in, then quick math-metal song proper. If you become predictable in your unpredictability, something’s wrong. Good songwriting requires creativity and unconventional thinking, certainly, but sometimes a great song just needs to do one thing very well.
“Alive and Well,” the sole instrumental number here, is just such a song, acting as the perfect mid-album deep breath, full of birds chirping, acoustic guitars, and lots of echo (and a little tape hiss). By the time the tune picks up some wind chimes and thrumming keyboards, the result is not unlike what you might find on a Moshe-produced disc before it fades out at just the right moment. It flows wonderfully out of the pairing of “The Calm” (it’s not calm at all) and “The Storm” (definitely stormy) that precedes the song, with the birds as a transition.
“March to Life,” the album’s finisher, again starts somber, with some of that record-playing-backward feel, lots of ambient noise, a guitar picking out notes in a chord structure moving up the strings and back down. Then arrive the bass and drums, maybe the first time you really notice the bass on a very guitar-oriented record, Villacci dropping in great fills all over the place, perhaps showing off a bit. Finally, the song gets going properly, with crunching guitars smashing the life out of all that feel-good stuff. What is possibly the best piece of the disc comes late, as lead singer Sean McAfee moves from his normal scream to a bellowed “Marching high, staring fear in the eyes/Marching high, summon strength from our minds.” He then repeats the couplet with the screamed lyrics doubled in.
The screams on most of the songs didn’t wow me. Without the body of many screamers, McAfee sometimes fails to fight through the mix and comes off sounding almost like a whisper. Further, without the liner notes, you wouldn’t have a prayer of deciphering lyrics that do try to be lyrical (“only time will tell how this theory does play”), even if they sometimes fail (“The joker sits upon his throne and at his feet an infinite lies [sic]/Thou cannot betray what cannot be fair”). That’s true of a lot of screamers, but if you’re going take the lyrical component out of your music, the vocals need to add more.
Like the Cambiata in their first disc, Apothis seem to be experimenting with being heavier than they really are. With solid melodic underpinning, a commitment to prog sounds, and a taste for the fantastical, there’s a lot of potential here, along with three or four very good songs. For a young band not yet two years together, that’s a good result.
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Sam Pfeifle can be reached email@example.com.