(Apexapien, the highly anticipated debut album from Canada’s Atræ Bilis is out this Friday via 20 Buck Spin, and Andy Synn would like to tell you exactly why that should be so exciting)
It really is a pleasure to see/hear a band living up to their potential, isn’t it? Especially a young band who seemingly have the world at their feet and a bright future laid out before them.
Case in point, when I wrote about Divinihility, the debut EP from up-and-coming Canadian death-dealers Atræ Bilis, last year I noted that while the band clearly owed a great debt to some of the biggest and best names in the genre – describing their sound, at one point, as “a combination of beefy, Blood Red Throne inspired riffs, chunky, Suffocation-style slam parts, and unexpectedly Ulcerate-esque moments of eerie dissonance” – they still, even at this early stage of their career, managed to pull it all together in a way that implied greater ambitions, and possibilities, for the group than just being one of the crowd.
As you might imagine, then, I predicted (and expected) big things for the band’s next release, and now, finally, we get to see/hear whether that prediction was in any way accurate.
Spoiler alert: it was.
One thing you’re likely to notice very quickly after pushing play on Apexapien – well, after collecting your ears from wherever they’ve ended up after the opening one-two combo of “Theta” and “Lore Beyond Bone” has blown them clean off the side of your head – is how much more focussed the band’s sound is here when compared to Divinihility.
That’s not to say they’ve totally altered their identity. They’re still impressively, almost intimidatingly technical, albeit not in the “Technical Death Metal” sense embodied by bands like Ophidian I and Archspire (although there are some similarities between the latter band’s upcoming new album and this one… but that’s a story for another day).
But they’ve definitely refined their sense of who they are and, more importantly, who they want to be, by placing more of an emphasis on hulking riffs, heaving rhythms, and hammering bursts of punishing percussion.
It’s a smart move, for a number of reasons. For one thing, not only does it avoid getting the band caught up in the endless shred-wars of who can play more notes in the shortest space of time – a recipe for mutually-assured destruction if ever I’ve seen one – but it gives them the space to define themselves without being restricted by the expected tricks and tropes of a specific sub-genre.
For another, it also means that it’s a lot easier, this time around, to get a real feel for what really makes Atræ Bilis distinct from the competition, namely a killer talent for combining gut-wrenching grooves and sudden explosions of murderous velocity, along with a penchant for dropping in some unexpected – but extremely effective – proggy/melodic embellishments at key moments.
Of course, certain similarities are inescapable and undeniable, and if you were to put a gun to my head I’d probably describe songs like “By The Hierophant’s Maw” and “Bacterium Abloom” as a vicious hybrid of Deeds of Flesh, Dying Fetus, and Dyscarnate (and there’s definitely a bit of an Aborted/Benighted vibe to both “Open the Effigy” and “Hymn of the Flies” too).
But while these comparisons are certainly all valid, to a greater or lesser extent, they never feel much more than skin-deep, and such is the sheer momentum generated by each track that by the time you make these connections the band will already have shifted, like a well-oiled murder-machine, into a new and even more lethal form.
It all comes to a head, to a climax one might say, with “To Entomb the Netherworld”, the album’s face-melting five-and-a-half minute finale, which runs the gamut from heavy to hooky, grindy to groovy (especially during its massive, constantly-mutating finale), with just a dash of dissonance and a morsel of extra melody for extra flavour, in a way that recalls Organic Halluconisis-era Decapitated without actually sounding like Decapitated.
It’s an absolutely crushing closer, make no mistake, and also emblematic of what really makes this album work so damn well, the sense that even though Atræ Bilis have learned pretty much everything they know from the masters of the genre, they’re not going to be content just recreating the same old forms and the same old patterns. They want to make a name for themselves, on their own terms and in their own time.
And that time starts now.