(Austin Weber reviews the debut album by Apocrophex from New Jersey, which is being released on March 10.)
They say variety is the spice of life, but in a musical context, it’s how you arrange that variety and spice that makes the difference between music that’s merely a rehash and something that’s varying degrees of remarkable.
Instead of mixing all their influences into one singular synthesis dispersed in the same manner across every song, as many derivative tech-death bands do, Apocrophex shift between countless styles and technical death metal influences in separate contrasting passages and songs. In isolation, this can make some moments come across as too obviously close to their influences and thus seem weaker, but when taken as a whole in terms of how the music is constructed, Suspended From the Cosmic Altaar is very interesting and varied for technical death metal. And that’s especially when you consider that this is the band’s debut album, coming very soon after their initial two-song EP, Wheels Within Wheels (which I wrote about last year here at NCS).
As touched on above, Suspended From The Cosmic Altaar has a lot more variety than one might expect from a band where all the music is being written by only one person, member Justin Buell. It’s sometimes brutal, and often technical, while equally chock-full of engaging melodies. The album encompasses so many types of tech-death bouncing off each other in a really interesting manner that it always succeeds in keeping your attention.
The music switches between a more melodically infused Nile type sound, while channeling a groovy Dying Fetus-meets-Origin vibe, as well as revealing clear influences from Death and the type of technical brutal death metal propagated by bands such as Inanimate Existence too. In addition, esoteric black-metal-style riffing worms its way into the tech-death minefields in which Apocrophex traffic, adding further variety to their already thick, criss-crossing mixture of styles.
While I usually follow and enjoy the NCS template of not writing negative reviews and instead focusing only on albums I adore, I feel it’s constructive to point out one issue I have with the vocals of the band’s other member, Pete Colucci. It’s not that the growls or occasional screams are weak — both of those styles are used to great effect here. It’s the over-usage of what I would call “mad prophet preaching vocals”.
They seem out of place, and often add no intensity to the moments when they appear, though I presume that’s the intended aim of including them. If the band included fewer of these or were more selective in their use, they would stand out more and also come across as a way of distinguishing tracks instead of something that risks making the music run together.
Often the problem with technically focused metal written by one person is its blandness and lack of diversity, but by sidestepping those pitfalls Apocrophex have crafted a fine album that holds your attention from start to finish. When you take into account the band’s notable musical progression from last year’s Wheels Within Wheels EP to this new full-length, it’s a sign that Apocrophex have a bright and promising future and the capability of continuing to evolve their sound and taking things to an even higher level.