(For the August edition of The Synn Report, Andy compiles reviews of all the releases by Sweden’s Apathy Noir, including the band’s 2016 album Across Dark Waters.)
Recommended for fans of: Opeth, In Mourning, October Tide
By my current reckoning I’ve got at least another two years’ worth of entries for The Synn Report lined up, and I don’t doubt that I’ll end up discovering even more bands worthy of inclusion during that period, so we’re in no danger of running out of potential candidates just yet. Hell, I’d hazard that there’s probably several other bands in my current collection who’ll be eligible by that time as well. So there’s no need to worry. This particular column won’t be ending any time soon.
For today’s entry we’re off to Sweden to touch base with Prog-Death duo Apathy Noir (formerly Apathy), the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Viktor Jonas, who have so far produced one EP and three stand-alone albums, the most recent of which, Across Dark Waters, was released in January of this year.
Now, to address the elephant in the room, I’ll acknowledge that the solemn Swedes owe a very heavy debt to early Opeth – particularly around the My Arms, Your Hearse period. But I’m confident you’ll find that there’s more to them than just that, particularly when they delve into the doomier, gloomier side of their repertoire.
Still, with Akerfeldt and co. treading ever further down the path of pure retro-proggery, there’s something of a vacuum out there right now, and Apathy Noir seem to be doing their damnedest to fill it!
A SILENT NOWHERE – 2008
Opener “The Mist and the Ocean” immediately brings those Opeth comparisons to the fore, but rather than attempting to deflect or deny, the band (at this point operating as a quartet) lean into them, lacing the song’s intricate, undulating guitar work with veins of dark melody and just a hint of creaking blackness around the edges, juxtaposing the track’s solemn grandeur with moments of haunting acoustic guitar work and eerie splashes of keys.
The beginning of “Bitter Roots” has a harsher feel to it, both in the gnarled vocals and the sharper, more serrated guitars, but this is soon balanced out by injections of (melo)dramatic clean vocals, supple, limber bass work, and shimmering lead guitar melodies, after which the slower, more dolorous strains of the Swallow The Sun-esque “To End The Misery” offer a pleasing contrast, the song’s doom-tinted atmosphere helping make it an early stand-out amongst the album’s nine impressively proportioned tracks.
After a short interlude the band continue on with the swaying stomp of “Into the Pale”, another of their gloomier excursions, which is characterised by its distinctive interweaving of sombre, doomy distortion and graceful acoustic melody, as well as some moodily understated lead guitar work.
Next up, “The Man Who Swallowed The Sun” is, surprisingly, one of the least doomy, and more overtly Prog-Death-focussed tracks on the album, revealing some of the most involved and progressive fretwork and some of the most energetic and shifting dynamics on the entire record, eventually leading into the somewhat more Opeth-influenced “One With The Shadows”, which also just happens to be one of A Silent Nowhere’s heaviest numbers, featuring a blending of the band’s most aggressive riffage and most vicious hooks yet.
Following the mournful instrumental of “Slumber”, the album concludes with the indulgent proggy musings of “Constance Willow”, which again certainly owes a debt to a certain slightly more famous Swedish quintet, but does so without being directly derivative. It’s a strong, and obvious, influence it’s true, but never to the detriment of Apathy Noir themselves, and it’s the differences – from the subtle to the striking – between the band and their influences (particularly when it comes to the group’s notably doomier edge and the occasional flickering glimpse of their Black Metal undertones) that really help capture your attention and set them apart. Of course, the song’s compellingly bleak atmosphere and epic climactic solo don’t hurt either!
GHOST LIGHT – 2012
After a four-year gap the Swedish proglodytes returned with a frankly rather stellar three-track EP (which also happened to be my first exposure to the group) entitled Ghost Light. The songs still bear more than a few signs of unabashed Opeth worship it’s true (particularly in the breathy clean vocal parts of Claudio Lousada), but the deft and delicate layering of morose melody and moody metallic melancholy found on opener “Broken Horizon” indicate that the band are more than strong enough to stand on their own feet when required.
Though the EP concludes with the sighing instrumental strains of “Sleep”, before then the listener is treated to the titanic twelve-minute odyssey of “The Immense Seas of Nothingness”, a song which could almost be a long-lost cut from the inimitable Blackwater Park, replete with all the gloomy grandeur and elegant progressive touches that would indicate. And though it’s certainly perhaps the closest yet the band have come to paying direct tribute to their primary influence, many of the riffs and melodies have a far more dismal and desolate flavour to them than those preferred by Mikael Akerfeldt and his fellow park rangers, helping to ground the track in its own particular idiom.
BENEATH THE ASHEN SKY – 2103
The Swedish duo’s second album still remains my favourite of their releases so far – in large part due to the more overtly heavy and doom-laden nature of the music, as well as the prodigious roar of vocalist Philip Grüning – kicking off with the blistering Prog-Death of “Leper Tides”, which puts a much heftier emphasis on the “Death” side of things (at least initially), with some truly humongous, rumbling growls and raw, churning riffage, as well as some unexpectedly electric tremolo work, without sacrificing a shade of miserable melody in the process.
“The Burial Ground” continues this denser, more deathly feel, but with a more fluid, and doomy dynamic glimmering softly just beneath the surface, allowing for a greater number of melodic interludes and deviations to break up the raging morass of grim power and scorn, while “Typhoon” pushes the band’s flair for menacing melodic hooks and bleak harmony a step further with its profusion of sharp-edged notes and wiry tremolo runs.
To my ears “Fear Me” definitely straddles a dividing line between October Tide and In Mourning (hence why I picked their names for the “recommended for fans of” section above), whilst also erring more towards the chunkier, harder end of both band’s respective repertoires, a feeling that continues on into the moodily aggressive “Murder Sun”, with its groaning, growling, European Death/Doom signature and overwhelming aura of brooding darkness.
The unforgiving emotional rollercoaster of “Amongst The Dead” keeps things nice and heavy, and suitably anguished, with its powerful blend of thrumming riffage, rolling kick drums, and flickering tremolo work adding a strong flavour of blackened doomage to the proceedings, as does its follow-up “Consumed”, though this one also finds time for an occasional interlude of expressively proggy acoustic ambience and atmosphere in amongst all the pounding rhythms and raging vocals.
Penultimate instrumental “Luna” provides a welcome reprieve from all the moody metallic catharsis, its sombre strains allowing the listener a chance to catch their breath before the album’s finale, “Endgame” – a towering monolith of crushing Death/Doom reminiscent of Swallow The Sun in their earliest, most deathly incarnation – finally brings things to a dour and dolorous close.
ACROSS DARK WATERS – 2016
With the return of original vocalist Vidar Wetterhall, Across Dark Waters also sees the band returning to the more progressively inclined sound of their debut, stripping back some of the heaviness and angst-ridden aggression that characterised Beneath The Ashen Sky in favour of an arguably more sombre and melodic approach. Not that opener “Beyond the Sea” is lacking in metallic presence of course, but it’s undeniable that the melodies on show (from both the vocals and the guitars) are of a bolder and more emphatically proggy variety than anything found on this album’s immediate predecessor.
The ten-minute “Lure of the Sirens” is a mammoth undertaking in many ways, but never feels bloated or meandering, as every melancholy movement – from majestic Opethian magnificence to gloomy melodic minimalism, and everything in between – has its own clear place and purpose, eventually leading to a fantastically emotional finale of tender clean vocals, reverberant growls, and soaring, cascading riffery.
With its doom-shrouded atmosphere and gritty, growled vocals, “The Village” initially bears more than a passing resemblance to latter-day Swallow The Sun (particularly when the semi-symphonic keyboards are added to the mix), though the complex and proggy mid-section certainly takes things in a very different, though no less captivating direction, while “Constance Willow II” leans into the band’s prominent Opeth influence once more, layering intricately woven tapestries of lead and rhythm guitar over the top of one another, while simultaneously weaving in a mixture of intensely introspective growls and delicately harmonised clean vocals.
“Death of Hope” has an almost archaic feel to it, at least at first, and there’s a surprisingly heavy emphasis on the keys to be found as well, which (in conjunction with the song’s prominent use of tremolo’d guitars) serves to add a particularly bleak and icy feel to the song, which then carries over into the sombre slow-burn of “A Gruesome Journey”, which sits firmly on the doomier (though still melodic) end of the spectrum.
For the album’s finale Jonas and Wetterhall pull out all the stops, ensuring that “Dark Waters” ends the album on a real high note. Building from a sorrowful piano refrain into a scintillating mix of melancholy melody and metallic furore, picking and choosing key elements of Prog, Death, and Doom – and even some touches of classic metal majesty, particularly in the almost Dio-esque clean vocals provided by Wetterhall – in a manner which makes the song far more than a mere sum of its parts.
Apathy Noir are working on a new release, which at the moment looks like an EP, projected for completion in the fall/winter of 2017-17. For more news, follow the band here: