Artist: Apathy Noir
Album Title: Black Soil
Release date: 31 January 2018
Formed back in 2003, Apathy Noir is the given moniker for the artistic output of solo artist Victor Jonas, who welcomes into his personal musical vision, Andy Walmsley, vocalist with Twilight’s Embrace and Beyond Grace. ‘Black Soil’ is the fourth full-length release from Jonas under the Apathy Noir banner, although just to confuse things, prior to 2016, the ‘band’ went by the name of Apathy.
Any time the email or press release mentions names like Katatonia, I’m going to sit up and take notice. In the case of Apathy Noir, the reference was to old Katatonia and Opeth. And, when the words ‘progressive death/doom’ are also mentioned, it was a done deal, even if I am a little late to the party on this occasion.
I must admit that I have not been misled by the references above, because this is pretty much what I expected I’d hear before I hit the ‘play’ button. The mournful lead guitar notes do call to mind the output of early Katatonia, whilst the crushing heaviness is tempered just a little by a production that is authentic to the genre some 20 years ago. Is that a kind way of saying that the production isn’t that great? Well, no, because the production isn’t actually that bad – with a bigger budget, the album could have sounded fuller, richer and clearer of course. However, it is perfectly acceptable and provides some raw grittiness and a taste of bygone days, regardless of whether this was deliberate or not.
I seem to be saying this a lot lately when it comes to the death/doom genre, but ‘Black Soil’ will not win any awards for originality. This is not re-setting the bar or moving it into completely new territory for others to hastily follow. However, what it is, is a thoroughly enjoyable slab of death/doom metal with plenty of melodic sensibility and just enough ‘progressive’ intent to allow then the use of the tag. That said, it’s in no way challenging in that respect, so don’t expect a plethora of tempo and time changes or a radical juxtaposition of apparently disparate ideas. These elements exist on occasion, but instead, Jonas tends to prefer a subtler approach, with plenty of light and shade and dark atmosphere his main weapons to stave off boredom and keep things sufficiently interesting.
Alongside the aforementioned Katatonia and Opeth influences, I also hear a dose of Swallow The Sun as well as, unsurprisingly, Twilight’s Embrace within the seven tracks that make up ‘Black Soil’. None of the songs come in at under the six-minute mark, meaning that there is still over 50 minutes of material to wrap your ears around.
This is the kind of album that proves that I must have a huge soft spot for this kind of music. I say this because whilst it is not at the very highest end of the melodic death/doom genre league table, I still derive an awful lot of pleasure from it.
Opening track, ‘The Glass Delusion’ starts things off wonderfully. The atmospheric sound of synths is joined by a bass and drum beat to set a nice tempo before the track explodes. The savage, almost black metal retching vocals of Andy Walmsley take no prisoners as they do battle with some expertly crafted staccato-style riffs which are both rich and icy sharp. The central melody that is introduced subtly in the intro is maintained throughout via the lead guitars to provide a mournful yet sumptuous feel to the song. It is then topped off quite surprisingly by a flamboyant guitar solo and more layers of atmospheric synths and an occasional foray into much quieter territory.
The Katatonia-isms are brought to the forefront of proceedings within ‘Samsara’, most notably through the sorrowful lead guitar lines. The use of melancholy minor notes is classic ‘Brave Murder Day’ era fodder but the song is executed with such style and elegance that the plagiarism is easily forgiven and forgotten. The introduction of deep and resonant clean vocals is a nice touch too, as are the changes of pace and intensity.
The clean vocals make a return within the beautiful dirge that is ‘Black Soil’, one of the more overtly ‘progressive’ tracks on the record thanks to its more complex and varied structure. Another strong melodic thread runs through the song, but what I also like are the more pronounced tempo changes and the way in which the guitar is allowed to hold a note or two, to allow a little more space into the composition.
If I’m being extremely critical, the clean vocals within longest track, ‘The Void Which Binds’ could do with being just a little stronger, especially early in the song. And I am not overly convinced that it warrants its nine-minute life – there are some nice moments within it, particularly the juxtaposition between the crushingly heavy riffs and the more atmospheric and minimalist interludes. However I certainly think it could have been trimmed by a couple of minutes.
There are a few other very small quibbles I have with the music on ‘Black Soil’, like the fact that I wish I could hear the bass more and occasionally, even the drums are a little anaemic within the final mix.
However, these issues aside, the quality demonstrated in the opening songs by-and-large remains present until the very end. The twisting and writhing riffs that emerge from the calm within ‘Bloodsong’ for example are very nice indeed, as are the particularly anthemic melodies that unfurl in the song’s latter stages.
It all makes for a very pleasant listening experience indeed, one that I am more than happy to recommend to anyone who might be looking for a quality slab of melodic death/doom metal away from the usual suspects and big hitters within the genre.
The Score of Much Metal: 8
(no embedded track because I refuse to embed the entire album – I urge you to go forth and discover Apathy Noir of your own accord!)
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse