Friday 22 March 2019

Aephanemer - Prokopton (2019)

Country: France
Style: Melodic Death Metal
Rating: 9/10
Release Date: 22 Mar 2019
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OK, here's something I wasn't expecting, perhaps because I haven't heard of Aephanemer until now and haven't been waiting three years for their follow-up to their apparently promising debut, Memento Mori. Others have. I now understand why.

On paper, Aephanemer are a melodic death metal band from Toulouse and that's a fair enough box to lump them into. However, they don't sound remotely like any other melodic death metal band I've heard and much of what makes them a special case is going to come out of trying to explain that.

Let's start with vocalist Marion Bascoul, who has a death growl that's both accessible and vicious. I'm not sure how she manages that apparently tough task, but it may tie to the way her voice is soft but very ready to rumble, literally. It's less aggressive than the other female death metal vocalists I'm aware of but not by much. She just prefers to hold notes than spit them out. It's an excellent performance, even before we factor in that she's also the band's rhythm guitarist and that she goes clean for parts of Snowblind.

Now you have an idea what Aephanemer sound like, let me explain why you're wrong. The most obvious instrument here isn't the guitar or even the bass; it's the keyboards. Prokopton is more layered with synths and orchestration than your average symphonic metal album, courtesy I believe of a gentleman named Martin Hamiche, who used to be the band by playing everything himself on early releases.

Now he has a band, he's restricted to just lead guitars and synths, but the latter are foundational here. Dissonance Within wraps up as orchestration alone, so notably that we start to wonder if we had indeed heard any more traditional instruments earlier in the track or whether we were merely dreaming.

These synths change the tone entirely, from the expected dip into darkness to a bouncy and exuberant reel. There's a three minute instrumental called At Eternity's Gate that wouldn't be entirely out of place on an Alestorm album. And yet, "Alestorm with death growls" doesn't explain Aephanemer any better than "Arch Enemy with synths".

I think this is because they're very much their own band. It's obvious that they didn't just latch onto a genre and change a single element to carve out their own niche. I presume they start with synth melodies and layer upwards until they have complete songs. I doubt they start with riffs or lyrics. It has to be said that they could lose the guitars before ditching the synths.

Frankly, Hamiche could lose the entire rest of the band and he wouldn't be anywhere different than where he was in 2015, but he'd be missing layers. I believe his initial success here was in finding musicians compatible with his style who could build upon it. After that, it's down to old fashioned songwriting, without which even quality musicians will founder.

This isn't the longest album ever, running just shy of three quarters of an hour, but it wraps up with a nine minute track that doesn't feel at all like nine minutes. Its energy is without bounds and the melodies never quit. The moment it ends we realise that the same could be said about the album as a whole and that's astounding.

Obviously there's a lot right with this album. Trying to figure out what's wrong with it highlights that there's precious little to bring up. I could have done with a bit more prominence to the guitars and the bass, the latter of which I'm not sure I caught individually until towards the end of If I Should Die. All that's in the layering though; they play their part.

This is outstanding stuff, so much so that it has to constitute my second 9/10 review in almost three months. Now, what did I miss before Prokopton?

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